When Special Interest become obsessive in children with Aspergers Syndrome

28 Feb

Special interests are great but sometimes pose a problem!

Its fantastic when your child diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome has a special interest, one he/she can focus positive attention, gain enjoyment from and importantly, learn from. 

Little man, has always had a special interest in transport and although this often skips between trains, buses and the London underground, it always remains within this area. 

Little man also enjoys Lego since discovering how much fun it can be, this has become an additional interest of his. Though it should be noted that he does incorporate his special interest of the above, within his Lego play. He spends lots of time creating new models of transport, whether it’s a bus or a train, he could be there for hours. 

This however isn’t a problem, though his special interest in transport did reach the point of extremely excessive a year or so ago when he was back in mainstream school.

 I found Little man was constantly mimicking the transport announcements that he had studied and memorised to a perfection! He was also intensely interested in the mechanisms of transport, especially that of the bus doors. He would use his hands to act out the opening and closing motion and spent hours beeping, so much so that I could hear it in my sleep! No matter where we were, if little man saw sliding windows or doors, he would head straight for them, sliding them open and closed as to recreate the same motion of the doors on the bus. I remember visiting his doctor at CAMHS for an emergency appointment which had been organised because of the trouble he was having in school, his low self-esteem, the anger it was creating, along with a whole host of other issues which resulted from such difficulties. He spent the whole appointment sliding the windows of her office open, before bashing them back together in a loud distracting manner. His doctor could hear the beeping sounds he was making as-well as the monotone voice he put on as he mimicked the announcements normally heard when on a bus! Right there and then she drew the conclusion that his special interest had become somewhat extreme, and if such behaviour was getting in the way of life, it was time to limit it. 

This may seem, to some, an extreme thing to do! Why stop him from doing something that clearly makes him happy (after all, he was having the most horrid time in school). The thing with Aspergers Syndrome and special interest, is that these interest can actually restrict interest and focus in all other areas in life. Basically, his interest in transport had reached a point where he could no longer focus his attention on anything else! It was clear to see that this had become much worse since things had could hugely down hill at school, that lead his doctor to believe that as-well as engaging in his obsessions because he enjoyed them, he had also started using them as a coping mechanism. Not only this, we also established that the opening and closing of doors and windows, or just the hand mimicking actions he was displaying literally all of the time was also providing him with some degree of sensory stimulation, he was sensory seeking! 

 I found that during the course of that year, we spent more time riding on buses than I likely had in my 20 odd years off living! To some degree this had its  advantages, not only did the bus drivers know us by name, often allowing us to indulge his love for free (I’m guessing they guessed this activity was costing me a small fortune, plus it wasn’t hard to work out, that Little man, wasn’t your “Typical child”) but I also found this to be a good reward system, no good behaviour, no riding the buses! Of course when this happened, a meltdown on a huge scale would follow,and although I admittedly caved on a few occasions, I largely remained consistent, which is obviously that best way to be

 Little man did some amazing talented things during the course of that year, he could basically tell you where any bus was heading in London, doing so with such acuity. Although he had always been pretty good at this, it was now on a whole new level! My son was able to tell us what bus was destining for where, despite never having been on some of these bus before!

 It was incredibly hard to take the doctor’s advice and over time, limit the time he spent on this interest. This itself took strength a whole bucket load of the stuff. I used to find him wandering around the house at 4 am beeping away, worse he would be unravelling the toilet tissue around the house as to create a route for his imaginary buses to follow. I could lead him back to bed, but I couldn’t always keep him there, I couldn’t switch his mind off his interest, he’ll just lay there in the dead of night, recalling hundreds of buses and destinations from memory.

 It was only after he started his new special school for children with autism and aspergers and his discovery of the Lego brick, that I finally saw a dramatic decrease in these behaviours! OK, despite Melatonin of a night, his still up till the early hours, and of course he still beeps and has a run through of bus numbers, but it’s nowhere near on the same level it once was.

 The Lego gave him a distraction and another form of sensory play, while his growing confidence in himself as a result of his new-found happiness at school, are the reasons behind this reduction. 

 Little man’s interest in transport will likely always be his special interest, and probably that bit more obsessive than most people’s interest. However, now it is manageable and I couldn’t be happier with this!

  I even got asked by the bus driver last week, if all was OK because he hadn’t seen us for a while… Result! 


5 Responses to “When Special Interest become obsessive in children with Aspergers Syndrome”

  1. Donna February 29, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Your post reminds me of my own children in so many ways. My eldest lad became so totaly fixated on Lego that he would stay up all night if he could building, dreaming and creating, great in many respects but not in the early hours!! But your little man reminds me so much of my own little man, who is only 3, but he has a passion for transport, particulary buses, and he also heads for the automatic doors, and watches them open, shut, open, shut etc etc, and it had never occured to me that this could be the reason why. If a bus comes along and we’re in town (we try to avoid this at all costs because of his extreme sensory difficulties) we have to wait at the bus stop, for the doors to open and close, never happy until the bus has gone, and usually ending in a meltdown as he can’t always ride on it!

    Thanks for the insight.

  2. Aspergers Girls February 29, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    It’s so beautiful you let him be in his special interest and took part in it with him. How lucky his is to have you.

  3. Aisha Feliciano February 29, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    My son is still in the diagnoses stage for autism but he was already diagnosed with adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct. I have been doing my research and getting oriented as of what kinds of things i can do to help him out. he has always had some obsessions, bu tthey changed from time to time, he used to loveeeeee winnie the pooh and his honey pot,he changed to dragon ball z wich i wasnt to fond of 🙂 and now its Sonic the hedgehog. HE will run all around the house with a pair of blue shorts on his head pretending he has spikes just like Sonic,he will draw him on all papers he finds even on his homework lol its kind of funny but it is gettng to the point that he will mayyybee just answer a few questions or engage in a different topic but it will always end up with Sonic. he is in a special class wich was opened for children with troubled behavior; been there for 3 weeks now and hoping this can help my Little angel strive. 🙂

  4. Slummy to Yummy Mummy February 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Your son sounds so bright! Obsessions are such a difficult thing – they can be so soothing & comforting for a child, and can actually help them to engage, but go too far and they can work against them. We don’t know if my son has ASD or not, (we’re still waiting), but he has his obsessions – Disney’s Cars and computers. These help to soothe him, but it can cause real problems if you try to take them away. We’re still trying to work out the best balance. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sarah February 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    So cute. I wish my daughter, age 8, could meet more ASD kids. Her obsession is Mattel’s Monster High dolls. She became obsessed to a very negative degree while on stimulant meds, which I took her off of. She would become very upset if anyone asked her to talk about any other subject or lost interest in MH. Her friends, who initially thought her obsession was “cool,” stopped being interested in MH because they didn’t want to end up totally fixated like her, and becoming “weird.” 😦 Poor baby… It sucks when their special interests become socially alienating or anxiety-causing. I can relate though!! I was like that as a kid about birds. At age 10, I even thought I could fly if I tried hard enough 😦

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