What Do Obsessive Interests Mean for My Child?

Many children will go through phases and stages where they have a favorite outfit, book, color, or food, and nothing else will do. For a while. These phases tend to be temporary, thankfully. For some children, though, these fixations are intense and may last weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime. This is especially true for children who have some form of autism. What you’re interested in is understanding what obsessive interests mean for my child. At Opal Autism Centers, our mission is to help you understand what drives these interests and to give you the tools you need to help mitigate them with positive and constructive methods.

What Do Obsessive Interests Mean for My Child?

Massachusetts General Hospital refers to them as restricted interests, however, these interests are intense and focused. Your child may have an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, trains, or roller coasters. These interests might also manifest as obsessive puzzle-solving, video gaming, or even an obsession with a specific video game, book series, or television show. Even when your child isn’t actively engaged in the activity, it is on your child’s mind.

For instance, you may be out to dinner but the entire conversation, or at least your child’s involvement in the conversation, might revolve around the object of your child’s obsessive interests. In other instances, your child might prefer to enjoy his or her obsession alone, isolating your child from conversation and socialization.

What Drives Obsessive Interests in Children?

It would be nice if all obsessive interests, and the driving forces behind them, could be placed into a nice little box that could be opened and dealt with in short order. The truth is that many children who have autism find comfort in their obsessions. They are coping mechanisms for children who are often overwhelmed by the realities of everyday life. Unfortunately, while these obsessions often provide comfort, they often come at the expense of experiencing life, socializing with others, and completing essential tasks. Their coping mechanisms become an escape that leaves reality floundering.

Shifting focus for your child may be difficult. Some react negatively when they are forced away from their obsessions due to social commitments, school, chores, or family obligations. These intense interests can be constructive in many ways, including the following:

  • Provides structure and order, allowing children to manage other aspects of their daily lives.
  • Offers topics for conversations in social situations.
  • Helps children feel relaxed and happy.
  • Delivers a lifelong interest that can transform into meaningful, productive, and sometimes lucrative careers as adults.

In other words, you don’t want to crush the interest altogether. However, you don’t want to allow an obsession to overtake the lives of your family or your child. Your goal is to help your child have a well-rounded life that offers meaning in all areas.

When Should You Step in to Mitigate Your Child’s Obsessive Interests?

This is the million-dollar question that many parents agonize over. When should you intervene over obsessive interests? The National Autistic Society suggests that parents ask the following questions to determine whether to act or not.

  1. Is your child able to stop without intervention?
  2. Is the interest affecting your child’s education or ability to learn other topics?
  3. Does the interest interfere with your child’s socialization abilities?
  4. Is the interest causing disruptions within the family or community?

If the answer to any one of these questions is affirmative, then it might be time to consider efforts to modify your child’s interests. Opal Autism Centers offers applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy that can be highly beneficial for this purpose. Attempting to modify the behavior on your own may result in meltdowns and alienation that is counterproductive.

Encouraging Diverse Interests for Your Child

That doesn’t mean you won’t need to act at home to assist. You can do many things to help your child find new interests and otherwise diminish the obsessive interest in a specific area so that it becomes a healthy, productive interest rather than one that is taking over your life and that of your child. One thing is to encourage new interests and ideas in addition to the current obsession. Encourage your child to spend a certain amount of time each day trying new interests and activities.

Consider limiting the amount of time your child spends engaging in or discussing his or her obsession. Scale it back gradually over time. While your child may spend time thinking about it when not engaging in the activity or talking about it, it may help to reduce the reinforcement that comes from engaging or discussing.

Encourage social activities that have nothing to do with your child’s obsession. Perhaps seeing other children enjoying other activities will lead to new interests for your child.

Opal Autism Centers Understands What Obsessive Interests Mean for Your Child

We are here to help your child cope with the wider world and to offer relief for parents who are exhausted by their child’s obsession. It can seem overwhelming on all fronts. Chang is possible, though. We can help. Contact Opal Autism Centers today to by calling 813-751-5325 or via email.

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