Children with Autism and Obsessions

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I have a child with mild, high functioning autism. He has obsessions. He has always had obsessions and most likely will simply be an obsessive person for his entire life.

Why do children with autism have obsessions?

In general, children on the autism spectrum are more comfortable with things rather than with people. They’re also more comfortable in their own surroundings. Therefore, whenever a child is in their home, they may want to watch the same episode of Dora the Explorer over and over again. They feel comfortable and safe. The world outside is too scary for them. Inside is good.

Watching that same episode of Dora the Explorer over and over again is an obsession. So is the airplane toy your child has to hold wherever he goes. It is also an obsession when your child has to repeat the same phrase over and over again. An obsession can be the phrase they say 20 times a day for weeks. It’s something locked inside their brains, for whatever reason.

What is it about obsessions?

Obsessions are something our kids can control. And it helps to regulate them. An obsession keeps their focus. People usually don’t keep their attention.

It’s simply easier for our kids to focus on one thing all the time. They are afraid of or don’t understand all the other things that people want from them. They have trouble understanding “look at me” or “read this sentence” or “eat your lunch.” Their brains are not connected in a typical way. People who are typical can recognize that they’re doing something way too much. Even children can recognize this, or they get bored. Our kids actually like their obsessions.

What do you do about obsessions?

In my opinion, you’re not going to eliminate them. I believe it’s very hard to tell your child with autism, “You cannot be obsessive,” and then watch obsessions go away.

Obsessive behavior comes with the autism territory. It may also be problematic to attempt to take away their obsessions. “Out of sight, out of mind” right? Not with our kids. The opposite may very well happen. They may obsess even more. “Where is my thing?” may happen. Trying to stop them will, in my opinion, probably not stop them.

What do you do?

Accept it, I say.

How do you accept obsessive behavior?

First, accept that your child is obsessive. And, by accepting that your child will have obsessive tendencies, you are more or less also accepting your child.

This is my basic approach to obsession. It hails from a fair amount of experience. I learned long ago that my child gets into things. HE REALLY GETS INTO THINGS. He does not do things lightly. He gets obsessed.

For example, when he began to like fire trucks, everything in his life became about fire trucks. Same with cars, airplanes, power poles, and sprinkler zones. Sprinkler zones? Yep, sprinkler zones. My child would go up to a stranger and ask them, “How many sprinkler zones do you have in your yard?” That’s just what he would do. Every single time!

How do you look at obsessions as a positive?

I would say there are two sides to this obsession business.

My child was around age five when he was “into” sprinkler zones. And (if I may say so) he was darn cute (still is, if you ask me). Therefore, most adults thought he was adorable.

But sprinkler zones? It is simply true that their autism-related obsessions have no limit. They can be about anything. Cute or not.

Here’s the other side…

When my child approached a person and asked about sprinkler zones, he was connecting with another human being. That was to be applauded. That meant something to us.

It’s a spin, I suppose. But it works for us. He was connecting with another person. And that’s something that our kids have to learn. They have to start somewhere, don’t they?

Apparently, I can spin a lot of my experiences into a positive. I’ve been at it for quite some time. We stress positive approaches to his issues. We just see them as more important to his development. If it has to be sprinkler zones, then let’s go for it!

In my next blog, I will continue with my discussion about obsessions.

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