Have you ever felt that your child is “obsessed” with something and you do not know how to deal with it? Children with autism are often observed to have strong repetitive interests. These “obsessions” can vary from memorising the names of MTR stations to taking a special interest in letters or numbers. Not every behaviour or special interest needs to be changed. It depends on (1) whether that interest harms the child himself/herself or the people around, (2) whether it is socially appropriate, or (3) whether it affects other activities (e.g. learning new skills) (CDPP, 2009). After considering these three questions and deciding to do something about it, the earlier the better! However, it’s important to note that trying to get rid of the special interest completely or suddenly may lead to more problematic behaviours.

Here are some tips to monitor the special interests and make them more functional:

  1. Find functional activities to utilise the special interests
    There are many creative ways to shape the special interests into more socially acceptable and functional activities. For example, if your child has memorised every MTR station, you can go to the library together and find books about how the MTR system is built and lots of other interesting information about it.
  2. Use special interests to make less favoured activities enjoyable
    You can make use of your child’s special interests when doing some less favoured activities to make the task more enjoyable. For example, if your child enjoys a chore such as wiping, but you would like to practise their number recognition, you could lay number cards on the table and ask them to wipe number If your child loves trains, you can incorporate some counting when playing with trains. “How many trains are here? Let’s count!”
  3. Use the special interests as a motivation or reward
    Special interests can be used as ‘prizes’ to motivate your child. This is especially helpful when introducing a new skill or habit to your child. For example, let your child know that you will take him on an MTR adventure after he has finished tidying up; or he can use his favourite towel after his bath when he asks for it instead of snatching it from you.
  4. Pair their special interests with potential interests
    An example of this would be , if your child is obsessed with sweeping, pair the broom with some craft materials and get your child to sweep them up and then stick them on some paper to make a picture. Through pairing these items together, you will expose your child to a wider range of objects and possibly new functional interests.
  5. Monitor and control the duration and amount of time your child spends on their special interest
    For example, you can tell your child that he can only wipe the table after a meal. A “first-then” visual schedule will be helpful when communicating this idea to your child. If your child always talks non-stop about Marvel characters, you can also use a timer to monitor the time your child talks about them. If your child loves collecting cars, you can limit the numbers of cars he keeps in his pocket when he goes out. In addition, you can teach your child to understand the places where their special interests are Last but not least, remember to be consistent across settings and people in order to shape their behaviour.



Monash University, Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology (CDPP). (2009). Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interest and activities. Retrieved from http://www.med.monash.edu.au/assets/docs/scs/psychiatry/autism-special-interests.pdf