Working with Fixations of Autistic Children

autism_behaviorChildren on the autism spectrum often have perseverative interests, which means having an intense focus or preoccupation with certain objects or activities. For example, a child might watch Thomas the Train as much as possible. Another behavior is to talk, what seems like all the time, about a unique interest in the weather.  Object fixation can be a child who refuses to eat unless there are enough toys nearby.

Recently, there has been an increase in research looking at interventions that incorporate a child’s perseverative interest. Parents and can caretakers can use these fixations to correct the child’s behavior.  A variety of behaviors and skills have been addressed using these approaches.

Currently, IRIS Educational Media is researching training methods for parents with children on the autism spectrum. If you know a family with an autistic child, learn more about the study here.

Here are some strategies to capitalize on a child’s perseverative interests:

  1. Use it as a reward

Perseverative interests can be used as a reward to reinforce desirable behavior such as following an adult’s request. For example, you can give a child access to his or her perseverative interest item or activity after they complete a task or follow a direction.  Another way to use this strategy is to give the child attention and talk about his or her perseverative interest as earned time for completing an adult request.

  1. As a part of a token economy-

Some studies have shown that using a version of a child’s perseverative as a token is more effective than traditional tokens such as pennies. Instead of giving the child stars, smiley faces, or pennies as a mini reward, you can deliver a small picture or sticker of the child’s perseverative interest.  For instance, a child who perseverates about a cartoon character would be given a sticker with that cartoon character for a desirable behavior. Once the child earned 10 stickers, he or she could cash those in for another reward.

  1. Increase social skills with friends-

Everyone would rather play a game involving their favorite thing, right? This strategy involves embedding a child’s perseverative interest into a board game, such as Bingo®.  The pictures are purposefully made to be related to the child’s perseverative interest, which increases his or her interest in participating in the game.

  1. Make reading more fun!

A child might show greater comprehension if the stories read are related to his or her perseverative interest. This strategy might be helpful to increase motivation to read.