Autistic Hyperfocus: Keeping Your Child's Interests in Balance

Autistic hyperfocus can often seem to take over the lives of our children. How much should we as parents intervene?

This is a continuation of a discussion we started on the first page of this article.

Of course, we all want to do what is best for our kids. In the case of our kids’ fixations, how should we handle it? Shall we stop our kids from obsessing over one thing, or should we allow them to indulge in their interests as much as they wish?

Sistine ChapelMichelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel was a result of his intense interest in painting.

The Answer to Autistic Hyperfocus is, It Depends

I believe what each parent may want to decide will depend on the situation and on whether or not their child’s autistic hyperfocus is causing negative consequences for themselves or for their families.

If it helps them cope with anxiety or depression, you may decide to allow them to spend as much time as possible on whatever they are interested in without interfering with family activities or other commitments.

I’m sure that in some cases the over obsession isn’t so severe as to be debilitating. Some children may show a major interest in something without allowing it to take over their lives.

If that’s the case, Mom and Dad may want to allow their child to explore and engage in the fixation to their heart’s content. As long as it doesn’t cause any major problems.

I believe it would be a serious mistake to completely prohibit a child from engaging in the fixation that interests them the most.

I’m a firm believer in allowing our kids to do what they love to do. I’ve always told my son to follow his passions, and I wouldn’t want to discourage it.

Who knows what he could accomplish if allowed to pursue his dreams as much as he can?

But if the over obsession creates any negative consequences, we want to teach our kids what it means to have balance in their lives. It may be necessary to limit their obsessive focus to some extent.

Balancing Fixations With Life

Helping Sam live a more balanced, normal life might involve teaching him that it might not be socially appropriate to speak to people about sports statistics for too long at a time. In this case, parents are balancing the encouragement of the child’s interests with reminding and teaching him about good social skills. 

If Leah's interest in playing the piano keeps her from taking care of basic hygiene, Mom and Dad would need to teach her that if she is going to be a great piano player, she will need to take care of herself.

She will need to learn that getting enough sleep, practicing good hygiene, eating a healthy diet, and occasionally getting out of the house will actually help her perform much better as a pianist. 

If children appear to be stressed or anxious as a result of their over obsession, that may mean that the fixation is fear or anxiety-based. In that case, you may need to stop them from engaging in the obsession altogether.

But in the case of Timothy’s over obsession on fear-based web searches, Mom might want to consider blocking certain websites or otherwise making it impossible for Timothy to look up information about the morality of playing video games. While wanting to do right is commendable, there is such a thing as being too paranoid.

Mom and Dad should consider having a talk with him and explaining what is right and wrong and whether or not they think it’s okay to play video games.

Why should Mom stop him from looking up such information? Because in Timothy’s case, his autistic hyperfocus is not based on a talent to be encouraged, but on a fear to be discouraged and avoided. 

His habit of excessive searching on the web is actually hurting him and causing more unhealthy paranoia to take over his life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder experts say it’s actually good therapy to resist performing a negative obsessive behavior rather than giving in to it.

What is more, we should understand that Timothy is not looking up the information on video games because he enjoys it. In his case, the interest is a fearful over obsession.

One young person I know who has experienced this said that such a fixation felt like a losing battle with fear. As he searched for information and resolved one issue, several more would arise to take its place. This process kept repeating itself.

It was a seemingly never-ending downward spiral of paranoia until Mom kindly removed his access to those websites.

But what if your child seems to enjoy an interest that is causing some problems for herself or for the family? How can Mom and Dad help her learn to keep a healthy balance in her life?

You can find those answers as well as a real-life example here where we show how you can limit excessive obsessions without discouraging your child from practicing a wonderful talent.

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