Everyone knows that an obsession with routine or repetitive behaviours is one sign of autism. However, most people don’t really dig deep enough to truly understand the reasons for such behaviours. It is not enough to say “Person X is obsessed with stamp collecting because he’s autistic.”
The truth is every aspect of their obsessions are connected to just how different an autistic person’s brain is. More specifically, this is in terms of how their brains respond to the environment.
Simply attributing a behaviour to a condition barely scratches the surface. If you’re a parent of an autistic child, or a person who wants to befriend someone on the spectrum, going beyond that surface is a must!
If you want a better start, consider these more fundamental reasons for an autistic’s obsession.
1. They are overwhelmed by stimulation, which their brain interprets as chaos.
Life in the 21st Century has been characterised as round-the-clock, fast-paced and bustling. The sensory integration issues of autism means that those on the spectrum see this world in more intense ways.
This can be stressful, if not terrifying (especially for autistic children). By seeking out quiet places that do not disturb their routine, they reduce the stress and other negative impacts triggered by such environments.
Normal people can still function in such places and ultimately allow them to interact and adapt. People with autism do not have that luxury, and their obsession with routines and familiar spaces should be understood with this in mind.
2. Sense of peace and control.
Some autistics are known for their narrow interests and hobbies. However, this is no mere escapism. Much like their desire for reduced stimulation, they have a fixation on things that are within their control (as opposed to unfamiliar tasks or subjects that lead to stress and difficulty in processing).
Many parents fear that such obsessions can eventually turn into crippling addictions. This is certainly a valid concern. However, one should not attempt to change this behaviour without planning to ensure the autistic maintains this sense of security and control when learning to do new things.
Much like blindness and deafness, autism can prompt individuals to instinctively compensate for cognitive abilities that they don’t have. Habits like stimming and hand-waving are generally considered as a means to help manage sensory imbalance in noisy or highly stimulating environments to prevent being overwhelmed.
This is arguably the one that parents might not want too much intervention because there is only so much an autistic can do to interact properly. Pressuring them to eliminate minor stress-reduction habits could do more harm than good.
Of course, you can certainly try to correct the sensory imbalance with the right programs. However, you should still manage your expectations and give autistics a chance to handle the environment in their own way instead of pressuring them to be ‘normal.’
All in all, there is more to an autistic’s obsessive or routine behaviour than just their label. They have very valid reasons for it that are not always appreciated by most people. Always think the best of them before attempting to intervene.
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