Obsessions and Obsessive Behaviors in Autism

There is absolutely no one who has a child with autism and does not know what ‘obsession’ is. No matter where the child is on the autism spectrum, it is not possible that a child with autism who has not been dragged in the vortex of obsession at least for some time in his/her life.

Obsessive behaviors seen in children with autism spectrum disorder are a condition that is minimized with early diagnosis and treatment and is extremely important in the socialization of the child. The parental factor is very important in the treatment of obsessive behaviors and obsessions. Being conscious of parents and being a patient and motivating an individual in resolving behavioral problems while living with a child with autism enables rapid progress in treatment.



All children have favorite toys, activities, and conversation topics, but for children and teens with autism, these interests are typically more intense and focused than developing children.

Young children may collect things like branches or balls, or want to know the birthday of everyone they meet. They can open and close the doors repeatedly or rush to each new place to find and wash the toilet. Older children may have very narrow interests or interests, such as needing to know everything possible about trains.

Some children move from one obsession to another and interests or last weeks or months without change. Others, for example, in children who are obsessed with trains, develop an interest in early childhood and sustain this interest in adolescence and adulthood.

“Parents often state that repetitive behavioral symptoms are among the most difficult aspects of autism that they have to deal with on a daily basis,” according to a research article. Parents may feel tagged by their child’s clapping hands or other unusual gestures. Some families may even go to extremes to avoid routine changes that could trigger anger in their child.



Obsessions, repetitive behaviors, and routines can be a source of pleasure for individuals with autism and a way to cope with daily life. However, this may limit their participation in other activities. It can make family life difficult. To help them, let’s first try to understand this situation.

In autism, whether heavy or light, the common point is; to protect the sameness. To open the same scene of the same movie over and over in a student with mild autism, etc. In severe autism, swinging the same rope for hours on a day. Actually, the brain works the same.

Because the high-functioning child is mentally well-off, they are obsessed with their interests, such as memorizing or writing the opening music of movies, memorizing car license plates, while the low-functioning children are constantly in their stereotypical movement because they are not mentally well.

Obsessions in Children with Autism


Children with autism have various obsessions. These obsessions are, in turn, an obsession to attention, object, symmetry, maintaining sameness, and obsessive behaviors.



Obsessions of Interest


Some children have very limited interests. They become extremely sensitive to the area they are interested in. Because of their limited interest, they do not deal with an entire topic. They just stick to the detail they care about. When the child, who has a hair obsession, gets together with people, he/she turns all his attention to hair. For example, a child obsessed with hair keeps asking questions about hair: Why doesn’t the principal have hair? Why are girls having long hair? Why did my mom dye her hair? When will my hair fall out? What if I pull the teacher’s hair? and so on.

Attention obsession is more common in intelligent children on the autism spectrum and children with Asperger syndrome. The child constantly collects and researches information about the subject he is obsessed with. The most common interest obsessions are listed as follows; animal species, vehicles, car brands, computers, phone numbers, car license plates, math operations, weather, and so on.

Object Obsessions


Many children attach to certain objects and always carry the object they are obsessed with. For example, always carrying a rope in his pocket or sleeping with a toy in her lap. Some of the children fill their room with the object of interest by taking their obsessions one step further. For example, Alexandra, who is obsessed with lid, has a collection of hundreds of lids of different sizes and colors. She never lets anyone touch her lids.

Object obsession is more common in children with low intelligence level. The most common object obsessions are listed as follows; lids, strings, pet bottles, puzzle pieces, shiny objects, and so on.



Symmetry Obsessions


Individuals on the autism spectrum who are obsessed with symmetry want everything to be organized around them. They straighten the chair that is not standing properly or the carpet slightly slipped to the side. They constantly check their surroundings with their eyes and find something to put in order. They see curvatures that even normal people cannot notice and try to correct them. When they are not able to fix it, they get angry and have tantrums. For example, Alexis immediately ties the buttons of clothes that he sees openly, such as shirts and jackets, takes care to keep chairs aligned, corrects curved panels, and pictures on the boards, he does not tolerate a slight curvature.

Obsessions of Maintaining Uniformity


Individuals with autism always do many activities related to their lives in the same forms. For this reason, they have a monotonous life. They keep a photograph of the environment in which they live and understand even a small change made there. For example, they immediately notice an object taken in their room and react sharply.

They routinely repeat many actions every day and strive to maintain a certain order. They avoid trying new things and resist being taught new behaviors. They approach new things with fear. The most common routine obsessions can be listed as follows; asking for the bed to always be in the same place, sitting in the same chair, traveling the same route, drinking liquids from the same glass, eating the same food, listening to the same piece of music, always arranging objects in the same way, using items of the same color, and so on.



Behavioral Obsessions (Stereotypical Behaviors)


They repeat some meaningless behavior without stopping. Behavioral obsessions can be observed in different forms and are quite intense in childhood. Parallel to growth, behavioral obsessions decrease, and wither away. Repetitive behaviors are more common in children with Asperger syndrome. But these behaviors are not very noticeable because they are not exaggerated.

The most common repetitive behaviors can be listed as followed. Swinging back and forth, swinging his/her fingers in front of his/her eyes, rotating objects such as coins and buttons, licking palm, hitting his/her ears and other organs rhythmically, turning around, making various sounds with his/her mouth, making a sound by hitting objects, and many more.

Obsessions in Children with Autism, Examples and Solution Suggestions


Obsessive behaviors are used to mean some of the repetitive behaviors that are easily recognizable, and when they begin and when they will end. For example; such as swinging in a sitting or standing position, biting fingers, nodding, knocking, twisting, throwing objects, and turning around.

John had obsessive behavior such as throwing objects into the air, especially throwing balls and sometimes shoes. Although these behaviors were not harmful to himself or others, John could spend his time doing more useful activities instead of doing these behaviors.



It is not fully understood why individuals with autism sometimes engage in obsessive behavior. However, it is thought that they do this type of behavior when they are empty, that is when they do not have any other activities to do. Therefore, obsessive behaviors are often a struggle against boredom. In such cases, interesting activities can be given to the person to prevent obsessive behavior.

Structured activities can be placed in the daily routine of the individual when behaviors such as swinging and twisting appear for the first time. However, more functional behavior modification applications may be needed for more advanced and intensity obsessive behaviors.

All-day in the workshop, Xavier was sitting in a corner, turning around a piece of silver paper, and refusing to attend any workshop events. The workshop teacher taught Xavier to do very simple mechanical work in a short period of about three months, using food reinforcement (orange juice) regularly. After Xavier learned how to do these things, he started to enjoy his work very much and volunteered. Thus, the behavior of twisting objects while doing these tasks disappeared.

Some obsessive behaviors emerge as a protector against external stimuli. For example, Annika was a 13-year-old young girl. Annika was biting her fingers and making a vocal sound in crowded and loud environments. As a result of careful observations, it was decided that Annika made this very disturbing behavior to protect herself from outside sounds.



Annika was given a volcano playing loud music and reinforced in noisy environments when she puts her volcano on her head. Annika was taken into a noisy environment by listening to the volcano before showing obsessive behavior. After a while, she learned to do this behavior on her own. Instead of biting her finger and making vocal sounds in crowded and noisy environments, Annika started to listen to volcanoes.

It was difficult at first to understand the reason for Annika’s behavior. However, to understand this, Annika was first left on her own with a little effort in a quiet room. Then the radio sound was given. She was then taken to a crowded room, and in both cases, the obsessive behavior was carefully observed and from there she gained an idea of ​​what approach to adopt.

Possible Results of Obsessions


Communication problems and obsessive behaviors take first place among the symptoms of autism. The child who has developmental problems compared to his/her peers in terms of language and speech exhibits some problematic behaviors.



Tantrum: These are the situations seen in children with autism who are aged 2-5 years, caused by the inability to express their wishes verbally because they lack language and speaking skills. The child with insufficient vocabulary and low speaking skills exhibits behaviors such as kicking, yelling, crying, and throwing himself to the ground.

Self-harm: Self-hurtful obsessive behaviors such as biting oneself, hitting the head, scratching the face can be observed. The child is observed when he/she is angry, unwilling, or worried about something.

Damage the environment: Some children with autism damage the things around them when they get angry. Again, such situations are observed as a result of anxiety, anxiety, or irritation.

Eating and drinking problems: Eating and drinking problems are quite common in children with autism. It is necessary to be patient about those children’s eating behaviors, such as being selective and spending whole mealtimes with the same foods and drinks they like.

Sleep problems: In children with autism, sleep problems can be observed, in order to eliminate these problems, it is necessary to pay attention to the balanced diet of the child and avoid sugary foods and drinks close to sleep. It makes it easier for the child with autism to fall asleep with measures such as calming music, relaxing stories, and the dark bedroom.

Stereotyped routine movements: Stereotyped movements such as shaking, turning around, focusing on an object for a long time are observed. The child acts like forming shapes in the air with his/her fingers, hitting the body with rhythmic movements, and humming the same melody for hours.



Obsession Treatment in Autism


Children with autism can be overly concerned with a topic. They can be overly attached to the details. They can become obsessed with a particular subject. A child with autism can be attached to numbers, letters, colors, car brands, car license plates, etc. Individuals who are obsessed with these situations and issues may want to talk about them throughout the day or they may want to spend their time with them. When they are blocked, they may experience tantrums and display aggressive behaviors.

Failure to intervene in obsessive behaviors, that is, not trying to improve with treatment, can cause bigger problems in the future. Before obsessions become indispensable for the child, intervention is also extremely important for the child’s socialization. It is a bit difficult to completely eliminate obsessive behaviors after treatment. Obsessions may continue to manifest themselves in other subjects.

For children who do not like changes, it is not easy to change these behaviors immediately. These behaviors may need to be evaluated and treated by a specialist. The specialist should list the child’s obsessive behavior and identify a different behavior towards each behavior. In case of an anger attack, how the child will react to these new behaviors should be determined in advance by the family and close environment. It is extremely important for parents to be conscious and to be patient in solving behavioral problems.

Step-by-step progress is followed in the treatment of obsessive behaviors and obsessions in autism. It is not easy for a child with autism who does not like changes in routine to change behaviors right away. People around them should try to change the obsessive behaviors by getting used to the child with autism without damaging their self-confidence.



In general, it is important to find the reason for this behavior of children with autism, who can make extreme movements to attract the attention of their parents and to show them the right way by approaching patiently before reaching this stage. It is important for parents to understand and intervene in what the child needs from body movements and facial expressions so that these behaviors of the child are prevented from turning into tantrums. It is very important for the child with autism to try to correct the obsessive behaviors that harm himself/herself and his/her environment.

The obsessive behaviors observed in the child with autism are first listed by a specialist, and then an action plan is made against each behavior in order of importance. In behavioral treatment, it is important for the family and other individuals in the child’s immediate environment to be conscious and to know how the child will react to which situation.

How Can We Help Reduce Or End Obsessions?


Do obsession, routine, or repetitive behavior limit a person’s opportunities, cause anxiety or discomfort, or have an impact on learning? If not, intervention may not be necessary. If it’s causing difficulties, they may need support to stop or change the behavior.



Detect function of behavior: Consider the function of repetitive behavior, routine, or obsession. What’s in the person’s interest? Does it reduce anxiety or block noise?

Change the environment: What is the child uncomfortable within the classroom? Is it too bright? You may find that changing the environment (such as closing the curtain) can help reduce sensory disturbance. If the behavior is a way to get sensory input, look for alternative ways to get the same feeling.

Configure: Make the world a more structured and predictable place. A more structured environment can reduce anxiety, sometimes a reason for repetitive behavior. If the person seems bored or stressed, you can prepare a variety of fun or calming activities to reorient them. Try using visual aids (such as daily schedules), social stories, or pre-planning strategies to prepare for potentially stressful events or daily transition times. Visual organizers can help them understand abstract concepts such as time, plan what to do, in what order, and understand the concept of waiting.

Intervene early: Repetitive behaviors, obsessions, and routines are often more difficult to make changes when they take many years. Perhaps an acceptable behavior in a young child may not be appropriate as they grow up, such as smelling other people’s hair, doing echolalia, or being obsessed with shiny things. It will be more helpful to set boundaries around repetitive behavior from an early age. Maybe the reason children talk about the same topic over and over again is that they are not flexible in their thinking. There is no medicine to help you be more flexible.



Sensorial Toys to Help to Reduce Obsessions in Children with Autism You Can Find on Amazon Website


YoYa Toys Pull, Stretch and Squeeze Stress Balls 3 Pack – Elastic Construction Sensory Balls – Ideal for Stress and Anxiety Relief, Special Needs, Autism, Disorders, and More


These are amazing toys to reduce stress, anxiety, and obsessive behaviors. While reducing these negative behaviors, it is fun to play with them. They will be your child’s favorite toys. They are easy to carry and easy to store. They are made from durable material. It means they are squeezed, bounced, and pulled easily, without any harm or broken. They are multipurpose and highly convenient. They can be used for therapeutic purposes. Apart from these, it stimulates fine motor development as well. Overall, it is a great investment. https://www.amazon.com/YoYa-Toys-Stretch-Squeeze-Stress/dp/B01LYCXQNI/ref=sr_1_6?crid=2AA9BQ10280A1&dchild=1&keywords=sensorial+toys+for+autism&qid=1600680076&sprefix=sensorial+toys+for+a%2Caps%2C389&sr=8-6



Spinning Light-Up Wand for Kids in Gift Box, Rotating LED Toy Wand for Boys and Girls, Magic Princess Sensory Toys for Autistic Children


It is an amazing toy for children who has severe obsessions. It gets their attention easily. It keeps them busy for hours. It keeps them calm and soothes them easily when they have a tantrum because of their obsessions. It is easy to carry and easy to store. Your child can take this with himself/herself everywhere. It is perfect for each age. It is made of plastic which is very durable. Overall, it is exactly what you are looking for. https://www.amazon.com/Spinning-Light-Up-Rotating-Princess-Autistic/dp/B082VFSJZP/ref=sr_1_8?crid=2AA9BQ10280A1&dchild=1&keywords=sensorial+toys+for+autism&qid=1600680076&sprefix=sensorial+toys+for+a%2Caps%2C389&sr=8-8



ArtCreativity Classic Pin Art Game Set Pin Art Toy for Autistic Kids-Includes Large 5 x 7 Inch and Small 3.5 x 5 Inch Boards- Hours of Fun – Durable- Nice Decoration- Best Gift for Kids or Adults


It easily attracts the attention of a child with autism when their obsessions become very severe and bother them. They can spend hours with this. Apart from its benefits, it enhances their creativity and focuses time. Overall, it is highly recommended by parents of children with autism. https://www.amazon.com/ArtCreativity-Classic-Autistic-Kids-Boards/dp/B01KTZ890S/ref=sr_1_12?crid=2AA9BQ10280A1&dchild=1&keywords=sensorial+toys+for+autism&qid=1600680076&sprefix=sensorial+toys+for+a%2Caps%2C389&sr=8-12



Super Z Outlet Liquid Motion Bubbler for Sensory Play, Fidget Toy, Children Activity, Desk Top, Assorted Colors


These sensorial bubbles have a soothing and calming effect on children with autism while having tantrums. They are helpful in terms of keeping them busy and entertained. They are perfect autism sensory toys because they help to keep them sooth and remain focused on what they do. They can be used as therapeutical purposes as well. It does not feel cheap at all. Overall, you will be very satisfied with what you have. https://www.amazon.com/Super-Outlet-Children-Activity-Assorted/dp/B00ZY6JHU4/ref=sr_1_14?crid=2AA9BQ10280A1&dchild=1&keywords=sensorial%2Btoys%2Bfor%2Bautism&qid=1600680076&sprefix=sensorial%2Btoys%2Bfor%2Ba%2Caps%2C389&sr=8-14&th=1



Sensory Jungle Store Rainbow Water Beads for Kids Non-Toxic – Water Table Toy – Sensory Toys for Toddlers 3-4 – Educational Therapy Toy – 20,000 Colorful Gel Beads


They are amazing tactile toys for children on the autism spectrum. The only thing you need to is adding water to the bottle and putting them into the bottle. These beads can be used for teaching colors and counting. These are also good for fine motor development. They capture a child’s attention easily and they can spend hours playing with them. https://www.amazon.com/Kids-Water-Beads-Sensory-Toys/dp/B01FQTFR34/ref=sr_1_32?crid=2AA9BQ10280A1&dchild=1&keywords=sensorial+toys+for+autism&qid=1600680076&sprefix=sensorial+toys+for+a%2Caps%2C389&sr=8-32


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