When Autism Fixations Rule Your Days
“Look at the sky, Mom, it’s orange. That means it’s Halloween!”
Austen was right, the sky was a very beautiful orange that morning. But I gently tried to explain to her that it wasn’t yet Halloween. It was no use. Within minutes, we were in full meltdown mode, with Austen screaming because she wanted candy, me trying to explain that we didn’t have any, and both of us finally settling down when I offered to let her wear her favorite dinosaur costume for the day.
The next morning when we woke up, Austen leaned over to give me a sweet, sleepy kiss. Then she whispered in my ear, “Mama, wake up, it’s Halloween now!” and we started the process all over again.
This has been a part of my daily routine for eight days now. Eight days of trying to convince her that it is neither Halloween nor do I have any candy. Eight days of letting her pick out costumes and praying that it will be enough to console her until Halloween actually comes. Eight days of trying to figure out how I’m going to break the news that we won’t be trick-or-treating this year due to COVID-19.
If it sounds exhausting, I promise it is.
This isn’t the first time Austen has become fixated on something Halloween-related. The previously mentioned dinosaur costume is actually two years old. There have been times when she has worn it for days on end, and I’ve actually had to sneak it out of her room at night so that it could be washed. Every time it snows, she insists it is Christmas and waits obsessively for Santa to come and bring her presents.
So, what do I do to avoid meltdowns? Honestly, it almost never happens without at least one meltdown. But I have learned how to curb her fixations to make the situation easier for us all. Such as letting Austen wear a costume. She has fun dressing up, and it helps her to not focus solely on the candy.
We also do holiday-themed activities like coloring pictures, or her sister will read holiday books to her. It is a season, after all, so we can do Halloween crafts or activities before the day is actually upon us.
At Christmas time, I put a small tree in Austen’s room with nonbreakable ornaments that she can take on and off as she pleases. This helps to feel the Christmas spirit and to keep her from constantly redecorating my main tree.
When Austen fixates on an object or particular game, we take a slightly different approach. Sometimes, for example, she will become fixated on a song. She will want to sing that song, and only that song, for days on end. We happily play that song, but mix in other songs as well. That way, the rest of us don’t go insane listening to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” on repeat.
When she fixates on a game on her tablet, I still let her play the game, but every 30 minutes or so she has to pause and do another activity, such as jumping on the trampoline or having story time with Mom. So, she still gets to enjoy her fixations, but they are not controlling her day.
No one knows why children on the autism spectrum have obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Many think it could be linked to stress and anxiety, or even sensory issues. It’s hard to find a balance, and it is most definitely stressful to deal with as a parent. But what else can I do?
Sometimes I find myself making Christmas cookies in February, but Austen is happy and it isn’t harming anything but my waistline. So, I’ll keep doing it, to a reasonable extent, of course.
Note: Dravet Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Dravet Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Dravet syndrome.