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Section 4
Treating Autism Spectrum Disorder

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed Sensory Overload. This included hearing, vision, smell and taste and touch.

Do you have the parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who has an obsessive interest?  

In this section, we will discuss effective parenting to build basic social skills regarding Intense Interests.  This will include controlling access to the interest and using the interest constructively.  As you listen, think of your patient.  How do your methods compare with those presented on this section?

Cosmo, age 40, came to me about his son, Angelo, age 8, who had Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Cosmo stated, "He has this intense fixation with plants. They’re all he ever talks about! He’s constantly spewing facts about photosynthesis and plant respiration and all kinds of stuff.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course…except that it’s extremely wearing on me and his mother. He’s filling up the house with plants; they’re everywhere! They’re in the bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room! I’m also worried about Angelo at school. When he meets people, plants are all he ever talks about." 

I asked, "Does Angelo have many friends?" Cosmo stated, "He has friends, but they’re only his friends as long as they’re interested in botany too. You know how children are…they’re interested in something new every week. As soon as his classmates are done with their phases on plants, they stop hanging out with Angelo because he’s obsessed with them. His teachers have noticed too, and, in fact, they’re the ones who called me to talk about it because they were concerned.  I just think he could benefit from some flexibility here and there…but, of course, that’s one of the hardest things to teach a kid with Autism Spectrum Disorder." 

How might you have responded to Cosmo’s predicament?  I stated, "I would suggest two things, controlling access to the interest and using the interest constructively."

2 Methods for Treating Intense Interest

♦ Method #1 - Controlling Access to the interest

I stated, "First, let’s discuss controlling access to the interest. You might develop a system under which Angelo can pursue his interest about plants, but with certain limits. For example, you and Angelo can establish a certain amount of time during which he is permitted to tend to his plants, and you might set a timer for the end of that period. When the timer rings, he must switch to another activity, perhaps a favorite computer game. At that point, he would either move to another room where there are no plants, or the plants themselves would be removed, to help reduce temptation." 

Cosmo stated, "But I don’t want it to seem like we’re punishing him!  I mean, it’s not that we’re opposed to him being interested in plants…we just don’t want him to be so single-minded them!"  I stated, "That’s why you might want Angelo to switch to an activity that he enjoys.  Does he have any other hobbies?" Cosmo stated, "He does have some interest in the weather…in relation to his plants.  He also really likes chess." 

I asked, "How about switching to a game of chess?" Cosmo stated, "That would be nice, but I don’t have time to play chess with him all the time."  What might you have suggested?  I asked, "Do you have any other children who might be willing to help?"  Cosmo stated, "Now there’s an idea!  He could teach his little brother to play…his older sister might help, but it will take some persuasion."  I stated, "Controlled access can also set up a positive system of rewards.  For example, compliance with household rules and expectations for a certain amount of time can earn Angelo another book on plants or a trip to a local greenhouse…etc." 

Cosmo stated, "He really likes visiting these botanical gardens near our house…"  I stated, "There you go.  Keep brainstorming things you can use as rewards."

♦ Method #2 - Using the Interest Constructively
I continued to state, "Second, let’s discuss using Angelo’s interests constructively.  Constructive application means, first of all, that you look for ways that Angelo’s interest in plants can be a strength.  As he grows older, the opportunities increase, in school, he may gain recognition for a science project involving plants. Or, with his other interests, he may become the school chess wizard, and make friends that way. Later in life, his area of focus may open up career opportunities."  Cosmo asked, "But how can it be useful to his mother and I to know a lot about plants?" 

I asked, "Who does most of the cooking at your house?"  Cosmo stated, "My wife, most of the time, but I cook a dish or two from time to time." I stated, "What if Angelo were responsible for growing fresh herbs for cooking in the kitchen?" Cosmo stated, "That’s not a bad idea…my wife was just complaining the other day about the poor quality of groceries she buys."  I asked, "Does Angelo have a garden?"  Cosmo stated, "He does…it’s actually a really nice garden, too. The neighbors often compliment us on how well-kept the yard is. He keeps a few hanging plants on the porch too…feels like a jungle!" 

I stated, "Maybe Angelo could be responsible for bringing the hanging plants inside on cold nights, or weeding the garden." Cosmo stated, "Yeah, yeah!  When he gets older, I could enlist him to mow the lawn and trim the hedges…but he’ll have to grow a few feet first. Oh, and one last thing. I read somewhere that some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be helped in their obsessions by taking certain antidepressants. Is that true?" I stated, "It’s possible, in some cases.  If I were in your shoes, however, I would consult with my family physician first." 

Do you have a Cosmo who has a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, obsessed with a particular subject?  Might he or she benefit from hearing this section?

In this section, we discussed Intense Interests.  These included controlling access to the interest and using the interest constructively.

In the next section, we will discuss How to Build Basic Social Skills.  This will include being specific, observing social signals, using pictures, teaching emotional vocabulary and teaching how to behave differently with different people. 

Powers, M. D., Psy.D., & Poland, J. (2002). Asperger Syndrome and Your Child: A Parent’s Guide. HarperCollins.
(AS is now ASD per DSM-5.)
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
La Roche, M. J., Bush, H. H., & D'Angelo, E. (2018). The assessment and treatment of autism spectrum disorder: A cultural examination. Practice Innovations, 3(2), 107–122.

Rosenbrock, G. J., Jellinek, E. R., Truong, D. M., McKee, S. L., Stewart, C. M., & Mire, S. S. (2021). Treatment acceptability in parent-mediated interventions: Considerations for maximizing outcomes for children with autism. Practice Innovations. Advance online publication.

van Hoogdalem, L. E., Feijs, H. M. E., Bramer, W. M., Ismail, S. Y., & van Dongen, J. D. M. (2021). The effectiveness of neurofeedback therapy as an alternative treatment for autism spectrum disorders in children: A systematic review. Journal of Psychophysiology, 35(2), 102–115.

Whitehead, P. M., & Purvis, K. (2021). Humanizing autism research and treatment: Facilitating individuation through person-centered therapy. The Humanistic Psychologist. Advance online publication.

What are two ways to cope with an intense interest on the part of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
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