For many on the autism spectrum, exclusive, repetitive or ritualistic behaviors can take up a big portion of time and attention. There are many perspectives on how to address these behaviors that mostly focus on how to stop or change them.
What people tend not to think about is that in one way or another we all have rituals, routines, repetition and exclusivity somewhere in our lives. For many of us we guard these sacred actions with gusto and sometimes ferocity! For me, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting with a fresh cup of strong coffee in the early morning while reading a favorite blog or catching up on emails. I know that once I start my day there’s no looking back, so I tend to be quite protective of this simple yet sacred ritual. If someone was actively trying to interrupt, distract me or stop this from happening, they would get a very clear message from me to go away. Not only that, but I would form a pretty strong opinion of them in the process, that would impact my relationship with them moving forward.
How and why we approach an ASD child’s ritualistic behavior is important. Wanting to stop a child’s behavior because it looks strange to us, makes us feel uncomfortable or we just don’t understand it are just not good enough reasons. I’m not saying we should never help a child to stop doing a repetitive behavior, but taking the time to understand my child’s reasons for doing it and how important it is to them should be our first priority.
For example, I have worked with many children who carry certain objects with them where ever they go 24/7, and become incredibly distraught without them. Sometimes the objects they carry may seem a bit odd to everyone else, but to them they provide an extremely important sense of comfort and stability in an otherwise unstable world. So while as a parent or professional I may be tempted to take these things away from my child as a way to help them “fit in”, I have to first stop and ask myself why? If it’s not harming my child or anybody else than what’s the problem? Why don’t I try it for a while? Why don’t I see what happens if I choose a more relaxed approach that seeks understanding and acceptance.
Don’t get me wrong I am well aware that some “autistic behaviors” can interfere with an autist’s life in profound ways. I have even had kids that I have worked with say that there are certain things that they do, that they would like to stop doing. However, that choice should be made by them, not us.