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In the last section, we discussed Sensory Overload. This included hearing, vision, smell and taste and touch.
Do you have the parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who has an obsessive interest?
In this section, we will discuss effective parenting to build basic social skills regarding Intense Interests. This will include controlling access to the interest and using the interest constructively. As you listen, think of your patient. How do your methods compare with those presented on this section?
Cosmo, age 40, came to me about his son, Angelo, age 8, who had Autism Spectrum Disorder. Cosmo stated, "He has this intense fixation with plants. They’re all he ever talks about! He’s constantly spewing facts about photosynthesis and plant respiration and all kinds of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course…except that it’s extremely wearing on me and his mother. He’s filling up the house with plants; they’re everywhere! They’re in the bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room! I’m also worried about Angelo at school. When he meets people, plants are all he ever talks about."
I asked, "Does Angelo have many friends?" Cosmo stated, "He has friends, but they’re only his friends as long as they’re interested in botany too. You know how children are…they’re interested in something new every week. As soon as his classmates are done with their phases on plants, they stop hanging out with Angelo because he’s obsessed with them. His teachers have noticed too, and, in fact, they’re the ones who called me to talk about it because they were concerned. I just think he could benefit from some flexibility here and there…but, of course, that’s one of the hardest things to teach a kid with Autism Spectrum Disorder."
How might you have responded to Cosmo’s predicament? I stated, "I would suggest two things, controlling access to the interest and using the interest constructively."
2 Methods for Treating Intense Interest
Cosmo stated, "But I don’t want it to seem like we’re punishing him! I mean, it’s not that we’re opposed to him being interested in plants…we just don’t want him to be so single-minded them!" I stated, "That’s why you might want Angelo to switch to an activity that he enjoys. Does he have any other hobbies?" Cosmo stated, "He does have some interest in the weather…in relation to his plants. He also really likes chess."
I asked, "How about switching to a game of chess?" Cosmo stated, "That would be nice, but I don’t have time to play chess with him all the time." What might you have suggested? I asked, "Do you have any other children who might be willing to help?" Cosmo stated, "Now there’s an idea! He could teach his little brother to play…his older sister might help, but it will take some persuasion." I stated, "Controlled access can also set up a positive system of rewards. For example, compliance with household rules and expectations for a certain amount of time can earn Angelo another book on plants or a trip to a local greenhouse…etc."
Cosmo stated, "He really likes visiting these botanical gardens near our house…" I stated, "There you go. Keep brainstorming things you can use as rewards."
♦ Method #2 - Using the Interest Constructively
I asked, "Who does most of the cooking at your house?" Cosmo stated, "My wife, most of the time, but I cook a dish or two from time to time." I stated, "What if Angelo were responsible for growing fresh herbs for cooking in the kitchen?" Cosmo stated, "That’s not a bad idea…my wife was just complaining the other day about the poor quality of groceries she buys." I asked, "Does Angelo have a garden?" Cosmo stated, "He does…it’s actually a really nice garden, too. The neighbors often compliment us on how well-kept the yard is. He keeps a few hanging plants on the porch too…feels like a jungle!"
I stated, "Maybe Angelo could be responsible for bringing the hanging plants inside on cold nights, or weeding the garden." Cosmo stated, "Yeah, yeah! When he gets older, I could enlist him to mow the lawn and trim the hedges…but he’ll have to grow a few feet first. Oh, and one last thing. I read somewhere that some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be helped in their obsessions by taking certain antidepressants. Is that true?" I stated, "It’s possible, in some cases. If I were in your shoes, however, I would consult with my family physician first."
Do you have a Cosmo who has a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, obsessed with a particular subject? Might he or she benefit from hearing this section?
In the next section, we will discuss How to Build Basic Social Skills. This will include being specific, observing social signals, using pictures, teaching emotional vocabulary and teaching how to behave differently with different people.
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