ASD obsession turns into anxiety - Mothering Forums
Special Needs Parenting > ASD obsession turns into anxiety
RJ11's Avatar RJ11 05:21 PM 12-19-2011

My 5 year old obsesses over certain things for months and months and then becomes anxious about them. So confusing I do not know how to react. For example: over the summer he was obsessed with mini golf. My husband took him every other weekend or so over the summer. He talked about it constantly and drew pictures of all the holes. Now he is afraid of this mini golf place and if we go anywhere near it he is relentless in repeating that he does not want to play mini golf. He has also been obsessed with addresses. He found certain number combinations to be really funny and would draw them all the time. Now he is afraid to walk down certain streets because he does not want to see specific addresses. Any advice on this?

KimPM's Avatar KimPM 05:30 PM 12-19-2011
It sounds a bit like OCD. Has he been evaluated for anything?
RJ11's Avatar RJ11 07:25 PM 12-19-2011

He has no official dx yet. He has only had a Psych and OT evaluation by the board of ed. He qualified for OT for fine motor skills and luckily she is experienced with sensory issues and is able to really get him to focus by using her gym equipment before an activity. There was no red flags from the psych eval but he really clicked with the woman so I don't think she saw any of his social deficits. We are seeing that he can talk with adults much more easily than with peers. When I read about Aspergers it really describes him, except for he does not have monster melt downs, he will argue about anything though. His obsessive interests have included exit signs, addresses, drainage pipes, mini golf holes, and now train maps. He is sensitive to specific loud noises like dryers in public bathrooms and vacuums. He draws for at least an hour a day - mostly related to whatever his current interest is. He definitely has social difficulties. He's just really awkward with his peers meaning very shy and keeps to himself or overly touchy and controlling and does seem to have difficulty with spontaneous language. His social skills are improving though. Where I live social skill groups and camps start at age 6 so right now we are just seeing how he does this year and are just thankful we stumbled into the office of his amazing OT. Maybe he has AS with a side of OCD. Seeing his anxiety makes me so sad but frustrated too! He'll go on and on about how he does not want to play mini golf when I never even suggested it. It's like he obsesses over an interest to the point that it haunts him and he can't face it anymore.

ErinYay's Avatar ErinYay 08:29 PM 12-19-2011

I think you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence: " It's like he obsesses over an interest to the point that it haunts him and he can't face it anymore."


That's *exactly* what happens.


As a "high-functioning" aspie, I find a lot of pleasure in some of my special interests, but some are really not all that fun to have. Aspies can really feel compelled to their special interest and often they don't come consciously. For example, I *want* to be wicked into robotics again, but my autistic interest in autism itself has resurfaced as we deal with DD's issues, which may or may not be spectrumy, and, for the life of me, I can't force the drive to redirect back to robots- something I take a great deal of pleasure in. I can dabble a little, but the draw is still to autism and speech related stuff.


I went through a (thankfully) short-lived phase where I *had* to learn about, wait for it, attic insulation. That was a real fun week around here. Non-stop party central, I tell you.


When a special interest fades, I almost always want a break from anything related to it, even if it was fun. If it wasn't a fun interest, I still have a lingering bit of anxiety that it'll resurface. I think your son is so very young and unaware of how his mind works (as any 5-yr-old will be) that he gets even more anxiety that it'll come back. It's unnerving to know that your mind controls your actions even as an insightful adult, so it's even more frightening in a young child.


I don't know what to suggest to you to help him through it. Perhaps talking about how you know he can't always control his special interest (or whatever words he uses- some use "obsession," "hobby," "special focus,"- I use "project," usually, to describe my interests) and that you know it can be overwhelming and scary, but that you'll support him through it. Maybe also let him know that it's normal for his interests to come and go, and (I'm not saying you do! Just something to watch out for-) if he drops an interest, don't pressure him into sticking with it.


Learning everything you can about a very narrow topic can be mentally stimulating, exciting, and fun, but it's, as you can imagine, it's also exhausting. It wears on you, especially when you're aware that others find your interest to be atypical.

RJ11's Avatar RJ11 06:02 AM 12-20-2011

Thanks ErinYay it's nice to hear an adult aspie perspective. We are just starting to realize both sides of our family are ripe with aspie like traits there was just no awareness before. I too get obsessed with things easily including researching about ASD. I want my son to have a happy childhood and it's so hard to see that so much is out of my hands. We have not given a name to his special interests yet - that is something to consider so he is aware that these obsessions will come and go and he can control how much he wants to participate in them.

Chicky2's Avatar Chicky2 09:44 AM 12-20-2011

I have an adult severely aspie dd, and an aspie dh, a very severely aspie FIL, and a mildly aspie ds.  "Projects" in this house have varied from Ben10, Mario, holes, knitting, psychology (whew, HARD one for others around the aspie!), genetics, microwaves, plants/gardening, air conditioning, etc.  There is alot of anxiety.  The most wonderful thing we've found is a specially formulated b-lotion.  We found this thru the Neurosensory Center of America.  It is a holistic protocol and has caused a huge amount of healing in our oldest, most severe aspie.  But the b-lotion I use on my son, too, and am trying to find a way to convince my dh to use it (sensory issues w/lotions) because I know it would help the anxiety.  My dh's Aspergers manifests, thankfully, in being a hard-working very dependable man, but there is alot of anxiety that goes along with that too!  The b-lotion is available otc at Neurobiologix. It really helps w/sensory overload, which seems to be running rampant in my aspies when they are in the midst of obsession.  I was very skeptical about the NSC at first, until I saw my friend's son do so much better on their protocol.  It might be worth looking into for your son.

Chicky2's Avatar Chicky2 09:46 AM 12-20-2011

Originally Posted by RJ11 View Post

that is something to consider so he is aware that these obsessions will come and go and he can control how much he wants to participate in them.

I don't know that he can control how much he wants to participate in them if he has Aspergers.


ErinYay's Avatar ErinYay 10:19 AM 12-20-2011

Originally Posted by Chicky2 View Post

I don't know that he can control how much he wants to participate in them if he has Aspergers.


Yeah, I hope this was a typo on the OP's part. When I say aspies are "compelled" to their interests, I mean it- there's not an active choice to get "into" certain things. I don't have OCD, but I imagine it's a similar compulsion- you don't *want* to learn about addresses but you *have* to. Sometimes, of course, it's really enjoyable to learn about addresses or whatever, but even when an interest starts out fun, it can spiral out of control and feel exhausting. One can desire to get into another topic, but can't fight the hidden force making them focus on the topic of the month.


*Sometimes* you can have multiple special interests going at once, like a long-running special interests in, say, dog breeds, that isn't super time-consuming and doesn't force you into research you don't feel like doing, but also have strong little interests here and there, too. Sometimes they overlap and are related interests, like having a long-standing love and interest in electronics, but *really* getting into 555 timer chips for a week. Sometimes they don't- maybe you've been super into baseball stats for years, but lately are *obsessed* with cupcake recipes. From my experience and that of other aspies, the more mellow, long-term interests are more enjoyable than and not nearly as stressful as those shorter bursts of interests that just sneak up on you. Our long-term interests are more like hobbies of NT people, but are often in not-so-NT areas. You know someone who is *really* into cars as a hobby, I know someone who is *really* into just engines. (I don't really, but you know what I mean, I think.) It's rare that aspies get a break from their interests. When I get into a "project-free" gap, I get really restless and bored. You get used to always thinking, and it's weird to have quiet.


When strong, compulsive special interests are going on, your head is just always filled with pictures and numbers and they spin around (I call it my Rolodex brain, something the younger folk won't get!) and it feels pretty bad. (This "ability" can be a benefit, as, as one grows older, often that spinning of ideas and pictures and concepts can turn into something more "behind the scenes" and suddenly out will pop a great idea- this aspect of AS is actually really cool. I solve a lot of problems/ invent new things just letting all the junk I've absorbed spin around without me really paying attention, and then the Rolodex just stops, open on the exact right card with the conclusion, design, whatever.)


So, yeah, there's very little one with ASDs can do to harness the power, focus, intensity, duration, or subject matter of their special interests. I coulda just said that, but I really think it's important to understand how special interests impact the person with them. If at 31 I still struggle with anxiety and frustration at my special interests, your son, at 5, is really lost, and needs a lot of support and patience. 

Chicky2's Avatar Chicky2 10:48 AM 12-20-2011

My oldest dd's long-term is knitting.  But it cannot be just simple knitting.  It HAS to be a super-deluxe-fancyasallgetout-extremely difficult pattern.  She spends hours looking for just the right pattern that will be able to keep her interest long enough to complete the task.  Good grief, when she started knitting, she jumped right into socks w/cool patterns.  It's all about the patterns with her.  From watching her, I totally get what you mean by Rolodex brain.  She just cannot get her mind to stop sometimes, but it is so much better and less frustrating for her since being on this protocol.  The really cool features of ASD are still present (they do, after all, make her *her* and interesting as can be) but the frustrating aspects of it are less intense now and easier to manage.  She does now have some say in how much she participates in her projects, and can actually exhibit self control now.

RJ11's Avatar RJ11 07:10 PM 12-20-2011

Thanks for all the thoughts on this. What I meant about control was: if he doesn't want to play mini golf he doesn't have to, if he doesn't want to walk down a certain street he doesn't have to. I'm trying to teach him he has choices concerning the obsessions that are now causing him anxiety. But of course it's not that simple. I'm at a loss as to how to ease his anxiety.

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 03:52 AM 12-21-2011

ErinYay, that was a really good description of special interests.  I've been trying to pin down how to describe my son's to the teachers and that was bang on.  He has a long term special interests in renewable energy and organic farming.  For the most part they are comfortable and keep him happy.  I let the school try to broaden his conversational topics, but at home I think it's important he can relax and enjoy his interests, and, (sigh), I have many in common so it would ruin my time with him to mess with it, too, which is probably why it took till this year for me to consider there was anything to be concerned about with the interests while the school and DH were really worked up.  It's when he starts getting an obsessive side interest that it gets uncomfortable, like over a week researching grape varieties, or wind mills, or (very unpleasant) which foods contain the most unwanted animal parts at the point of harvesting.  The intensity can tire him out, and us.


Also, genuinely anxiety provoking things can be discovered when researching an interest.  DS is pretty concerned right now about various harvesters and how likely they are to kill wild life.  It's unpleasant research, and he is really feeling icked out about grocery store food, when I'd like him to eat without issues.  We had a similar thing happen four years ago at age 7.  He had a kind of scholarly interest in micro-organisms which turned into a real OCD about food being touched or tampered with.  It was very upsetting for everybody in the family, as he was so hard to feed.

Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 08:35 AM 12-22-2011



Thank you for explaining all this!  You've helped me understand my DD better.


One thing I've noticed over the last year is that she is a little calmer in her special interest. She can have more than one at a time, and is cycling faster. She's a little open to suggestions. She's 15. I'm wondering if this is a phase, or if as an Aspie grows up a little more balance is possible.

ErinYay's Avatar ErinYay 10:55 AM 12-22-2011

I think a lot of it has to do with anxiety levels in general, as well as early recognition of differences. When my anxiety is high, it impacts my special interests in a very negative way. When it's low, I find that I can control them a bit more and don't feel as, for lack of a better term, manic about them. It's that whole you-meet-one-aspie-and-you've-met-one-aspie thing as there's so much variability, but I think the younger we work with kids, the more flexible they become. Flexibility is such an important skill to teach- those of us who dog-paddled through the years on our own tend to have far less healthy coping mechanisms and compensatory skills than kids who have been getting assistance since early childhood, so I bet you that's a lot of it, and it's a *great* thing!

Linda on the move's Avatar Linda on the move 02:24 PM 12-22-2011

Originally Posted by ErinYay View Post

I think a lot of it has to do with anxiety levels in general, as well as early recognition of differences. When my anxiety is high, it impacts my special interests in a very negative way. When it's low, I find that I can control them a bit more and don't feel as, for lack of a better term, manic about them.


that makes sense for her -- the shift dates back to when she switched to the alternative school that she attends now. Her anxiety was off the charts at her old school (very traditional school).


May be part of the shift to being calmer/less manic in her special interest is related to being less anxious overall.


May be I could use that in the future, if she starts seeming more manic about the interests, to look at the rest of her life and her overall stress level. notes.gif

naturemomma13's Avatar naturemomma13 08:10 AM 12-27-2011

We're dealing with this in our two year old son.  I just blogged about it here:

It's really hard to balance the anxieties with the joy he gets from certain things, though I think most of his obsessions stem from an original fear of something... even his obsession of trucks.  I take every teachable moment to show when things are not scary or explain things to make sense of the unexpected scary things that come from his obsessions (such as hand blenders and vacuums)... not sure if this would help, but have you asked why the mini golf place is scary or tried explaining different parts of the mini golf place to see what his reaction is like about different aspects? it might help get more clarity.  

ErinYay's Avatar ErinYay 10:47 AM 12-27-2011

Originally Posted by naturemomma13 View Post

We're dealing with this in our two year old son.  I just blogged about it here:


It's a good blog! My 2-year-old also gets stuck; it's frustrating and heartbreaking, as I know she doesn't *want* to loop her words, but she must. I hope she understands that we're trying to listen, trying to see what she really wants and need.