Restricted Patterns of Behaviors, Interests & Activities for Autism – FAQ

Question: What are restricted patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities?

Answer: These are behaviors and interests that are repetitive and can interfere with learning. Behaviors can include interests that are very intense and sometimes odd, non-functional routines, repetitive motor movements, and preoccupation with parts of things.

Question: Is a special interest always about something odd, like vacuum cleaners?

Answer: No, a special interest may be about geography, math, or a current age-appropriate interest like video games. What makes it a special interest is the extreme devotion to the topic and how passionate the person is about it.

Question: Why do individuals with ASD need routines and rituals?

Answer: There are several possible reasons for routines and rituals. Perhaps the routines and rituals relieve anxiety and stress by keeping things the same. Maybe the person with ASD needs to escape demands for a little while so he or she can calm down. Finally, maybe communication or social interactions are so difficult for the person with ASD that she uses the routines and rituals to give herself time to process what she needs to do or to avoid doing it.

Question: Why is something like a fire drill so difficult for people with ASD to cope with?

Answer: Individuals on the spectrum have a need for sameness. Change to a school schedule or a work routine brings anxiety. Because it is not something they do often, it means the time schedule has to be adjusted, and there are questions about how long the change will take and what will happen next. Also, many persons with ASD communicate with behaviors rather than words and facial expressions. If they are anxious or upset about the fire drill, behaviors may be the only way they have to show you.

Question: What are some of the repetitive motor behaviors one may see in an individual with autism?

Answer: Some of the motor behaviors may include:

  • Arm flapping
  • Pacing
  • Jumping
  • Making faces repeatedly
  • Hand-flapping
  • Finger-flicking
  • Clapping
  • Twirling
  • Blinking
  • Mouthing
  • Feeling a surface, especially with a texture
  • Staring at moving objects
  • Unusual postures
  • Rocking
  • Banging a surface

Question: Can anything good come out of the special interests that persons with ASD may have?

Answer: Special interests can be used as rewards, if they are easily started and ended. Special interests need a time, place, and length of time to be used effectively. Some special interests may be developed into vocational skills or possibly even a job.

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