Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have what the medical model calls “repetitive or restricted interests.” Although these interests, fascinations, or rituals may seem “strange” to us, they offer the child sensory stimulation and relief. Allowing your child to engage with his or her special interest, whether that is magazines or bottle tops, provides them with a sense of calmness. For example, sitting in solitude is their oxygen, it helps block out negative thoughts, eases their anxiety from the day and provides a sense of predictability that they need.

Often parents believe that by giving their child this special interest (book, stamps, train) they are “giving in” to them and losing control. Instead, we should shift our mindset to thinking that this interest gives us something to work with – a motivator.

The following are some ideas for incorporating special interests into day-to-day activities (using the example of trains):

  • Take out all the trains you have at home and make it a counting activity,
  • Have your child sort through a pile or trains, finding the ones that are the same or different,
  • Draw pictures of trains, commenting on what you see (E.g. “I spy…”),
  • Make a mystery bag of trains where your child has to reach in the bag and describe what he/she feels and when he/she takes it out describes what he/she sees,
  • Use the trains to work on goals such as prepositions. Hide the trains between, on top, beside, inside and under furniture and walk around the house together giving clues where the trains are hidden (E.g., under the desk, between the books),
  • Create a schedule to outline what he/she will be doing that day and cut and paste trains on the schedule to make it more visually appealing, and
  • Read a book together with characters that are trains or other modes of transportation he/she enjoys.

These are only a few ideas using trains; however these examples could be applied to many different interests. Be creative and have fun! Use your child’s strengths to motivate, facilitate and engage them in activities!

This blog was inspired from a lecture given by Temple Grandin at the Geneva Conference for Autism, November 2010.

Written by: Ashleigh Wishen, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.