Life on the Autism spectrum

Obsessions & autism

Most people talked about being obsessive about things. These obsessions, which included hygiene, health, exercise, safety, animals, computers, people, cars, DVDs and, in one case, Kate Winslet, could dominate people’s lives. The intensity and type of obsession varied over time but remained, for most people, a consistent feature of their lives.

Obsessions were often linked to people’s special interests (see ‘Activities and interests’) and the line between interest and obsession could be difficult to draw. One man, for example, was obsessed with clean books; he felt that “it’s almost rape” if someone writes on a book. He was also compulsively punctual and became hysterical if he was late for anything. Steven said that his wife called his special interest, autism, an ‘obsession’ but he thought that people on the spectrum go into great detail which can be interpreted as an obsession.

A few people were diagnosed with OCD as well as autism. Mary reflected on how OCD was interconnected with Asperger syndrome; “I know not all people with Asperger's have OCD but I think for me, it’s kind of just all part of the same thing, considering I’ve always had it all my life and it’s combined with all these other things”.

“Milton is my best friend”
Some obsessions related to fear and were about health, hygiene and safety. These are discussed in ‘Fears, anxieties and anger’. Cluttering was another type of obsession discussed; one man, for example, said that his house was full of newspapers because he collected obituaries. John’s psychologist lumped together obsessional thinking, difficulties in organising things and hoarding as part of Asperger syndrome.

Obsessions could become more or less severe at different times in people’s lives and some people related the severity to periods of stress, insecurity or feeling out of control. Mary, for example, found that her obsessions became less severe when she had a friend. The distraction of a friend helped her to become less obsessive. 

“Obsessions get in the way of simply living a normal life”
Obsessions could cause people considerable difficulties in their everyday life. Several people talked about how their obsessional behaviour interfered with their employment or relationships.

Obsessional thoughts could also interfere with interactions with other people (see ‘Communication and Interaction’). Ian’s obsession with respect could lead him into fights with people.

Other people were able to use their obsessions more productively. Mary used her Kate Winslett obsession together with her obsession to memorise books, to help her concentrate at school and she was able to go on to university which she hadn’t expected.

“The adult autistic mind grows more wary of all the dangers”
People had found ways of trying to manage their obsessions although, as Russell said, as he got older he’d become more aware and more cautious of potential dangers.

Many people said they needed routine and order in their daily lives. They disliked change, particularly sudden change. A few people knew that routines were not necessarily a good idea, because they could be disrupted, but tended towards routine anyway. One woman said her husband was very, very precise about the way he ate his food and would always go round his plate in the same order. Another woman had made a daily routine for herself, looking after the house, which she could cope with.

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Last reviewed July 2016.
Last updated November 2010.


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