Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Special interests and routines

Having ‘special interests’, ‘specialist subjects’ or ‘must do’s’ is also a characteristic of autism. Some children’s special interests included tearing paper into tiny pieces, trains, computers, computer games, drawing, animals, counting down the time to particular events, and the weather (see ‘Activities’). These interests were, in some cases, the entire focus of the children’s lives and were sometimes related to sensory sensitivities.

Thomas the Tank engine consistently turned up in the parents’ stories we heard and some of the children watched the same DVD or the same part of an episode repeatedly.

Many children needed routine to manage their everyday lives and any small change, for example, moving furniture around, could upset them. Changes in routine that were not planned could make life unpredictable and confuse the children. Like many other children on the autism spectrum, they preferred to have a fixed routine so that they knew what was going to happen each day. They also liked order in various aspects of their lives. One boy expected children to queue up in the same order outside the classroom while another planted spring bulbs in straight lines in his front garden.

Of course it is not always possible to anticipate changes and this could be difficult for children and their parents. One mother described the build up to Christmas at school as the worst time of the year for children with autism because the routine changes so much with Christmas parties and plays.

Bedtime routines were particularly important to many children - several parents described the lengthy routines they had go through before their children would go to sleep (see ‘Eating and sleeping’).

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated November 2012.


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