If you are the parent or carer of a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, then you are probably aware that Aspergers / Autism Spectrum people often have obsessive tendencies. They can become completely fixated on their passion, whatever that may be. These obsessive behaviors may be quite intense and many parents become concerned that their child's preoccupation with his or her object of passion is impeding the ability to function in daily life. In extreme cases, it can potentially wreak havoc in your family life.
As the parent of your ASD child, you will have to rely on your own instincts to decide where the line is to be drawn. You may decide that you need to stop indulging your child in his or her obsession – or at least strictly control it. Only you can truly gauge to what extent the obsession has become unhealthy or simply unmanageable. Before you take action, however, it may help to understand what's going on for your child and what this obsession means for him or her.
The Autism Spectrum Mind
Your Aspergers / Autism Spectrum child's mind is unique and amazing. As a collective whole, our society tends to focus on the “disability” aspect of autistic disorders because we are acutely aware of what is not working for these children. Those areas which are under-functioning are high-lighted and brought to the forefront because we want to help our children learn to function in a “neurotypical” world.
This is inconvenient because, in fact, there are probably things your child can do that most other people can not – or at least not very well! There is almost certainly a part of your child's ability profile that far outperforms the other parts. And this part most likely functions above average for your child's age. It may already be highly developed or at least could be with the right support. Perhaps you already know this.
That is where the magic is for your child! If you can help your child focus on and expand this part of his or her functioning – turn it from a raw talent into a real strength – it will be your child's ticket to happiness and possibly independence. We all need a “purpose” in life in order to feel fulfilled – a reason for being here. Well, this is your child's purpose!
Your Autism Spectrum Child's Obsession
At first glance, your child's current obsession probably appears to be completely useless in the “real world”. In other words, it may well appear as though your child's obsession is of no benefit to him / her or anyone else.
But here's what you need to understand: if your child is obsessed with something, it's because that thing sparks the high-functioning part of your child's brain somehow. That's why your child is so passionate about it! Your child's brain is learning something from that obsession and strengthening the inherent talent.
This may be very difficult to appreciate at first, so I will give you a simple example. I will use Pokemon as my example because many ASD children adore Pokemon and share this passion – both of my sons included. (It's no surprise that the man who created Pokemon is an Aspie!)
For my eldest, it is my belief that the cataloging and classifying aspects of Pokemon appeared to his mind – the differentiating, sorting and compilation into different types, abilities, powers and so forth of the different Pokemon monsters. My eldest is currently in his third year of a chemistry degree and I now understand that his mind works this way. He has an almost superhuman desire to “catalog” in this manner. This gives him a distinct advantage in certain areas of the study of chemistry. (Because of “profile testing” that had been done on my son when he was fairly young, I knew that sorting and pattern recognition were very highly developed parts of his ability profile, but I never made the link.)
For my youngest, the appeal was entirely different. It was the fantasy, the heroism, the feeling of power that engaged his mind. My youngest Aspie has a very rich inner, imaginary world. Stories like Pokemon fueled the flames of this fantasy. Now, at the age of 10, he is showing an amazing talent for writing creative fantasy stories.
For other autism spectrum children, it may be the visual appeal or the visual spatial (video game) aspect of Pokemon that fascinates them. Most ASD children would be hard pressed to tell you exactly what it is about the game that their brain craves, because they do not understand it themselves. All they know is that they love it and feel like they need it.
Trying to figure out how your Aspergers / Autism Spectrum child's obsession is benefitting him or her is not particularly fruitful – or what high-functioning part of the brain is being fed. It's much more about trusting that your child is passionate about his or her thing for a reason and that s / he is exercising a powerful talent and turning it into a strength.
What Does It All Mean?
In truth, ASD people feel that they need to conquer and master it, whatever “it” is. Your child longs for the feeling of success and accomplishment that enterprises mastering his or her passion. S / he is driven to understand it at the deepest level, to own it completely.
Your youngster will almost certainly outgrow whatever childish obsession is currently driving you mad. S / he will conquer it and move on. My eldest Aspie had a violent passion for video games. He played more than most parents would consider healthy. Then, miraculously, almost overnight, he took that same fervent passion and shifted the focus toward study – the study of chemistry and languages in particular, which both call upon this “cataloguing” aspect of his mind.
The point is this: restrict your Autism Spectrum child's obsession if you must. You will have to listen to your instincts to gauge where the limit is. Do understand, however, that your child's brain craves something from that preoccupation and s / he is gaining far more than you can possibly imagine by indulging in it, regardless of how frivolous it may seem to you.
It's true that ASD people can be extremely obsessive. This is nothing new. What is new, though, is what's going on behind the scenes for your child inside that astonishing brain. Indulge the preoccupation to whatever degree you can tolerate. Feed that passion. Let your Aspergers / Autism Spectrum child's mind absorb what it warns to learn from the obsession and have faith that s / he will move on to far bigger things.