For many years, our focus with Tyson has been increasing his communication by any and all means possible.
Generally, I have not given a whole lot of thought to Tyson’s repetitive behaviours as they are very much a part of Tyson’s being.
They are part of what makes him the boy we adore and strive to figure out.
However, restrictive, repetitive behaviours are very much a key component for an autism diagnosis.
When Tyson was little I never noticed the stereotypic behaviours – he did not line up toys, he did not repeat the same phrases, he did not rock back and forth or toe walk nor did he seem to be fixated on the same routine every day.
He would however spin around in a circle very fast. Toddler Tyson always seemed so happy when spinning – like he had stepped into a magical world that only he could see.
Now he seems to only spin in overstimulating environments.
Despite knowing this, I am still in awe seeing his feet move at the speed of light and with such precision, all while never getting dizzy. I always thought he would make a great figure skater.
Some of Tyson’s restricted behaviours have changed over time, visiting for just a short period before being replaced by something else.
Right now, he likes to have all the lights in the house off (even in the evening). This might last for 30 minutes or the entire evening.
In the past, he has been fixated on having all the doors closed at all times.
For a while, Tyson would touch his chest each time he turned the page of a book.
At one point, he would always say “ahhhh” whenever he took a sip of water.
Sometimes kids on the spectrum use repetitive behaviours to help regulate themselves. It can be calming when they are feeling stressed.
Other behaviours are a part of him just the same as his blue eyes or his messy hair.
For example when excited Tyson will jump up and down. The intensity of the jumping is equal to the intensity of the excitement.
Often when he comes downstairs he has a set pattern of movement. Instead of entering the living room, which is directly off the stairs, he will take what I call the scenic route and enter the kitchen and dining room first.
Most of these behaviours may be a little quirky but they don’t cause any issues in his daily living.
That is until lately.
I blame it all on skittles.
Yes, the colorful taste the rainbow candy.
Let me tell you about it ….
In the fall, Tyson got into watching commercials and for some reason unknown to me, one of these videos was scary to him.
The video in question is the Skittles commercial with Steve Perry and his Skittles portrait.
Tyson is terrified of this commercial.
The strange thing about it is that he will acknowledge the video is scary but still is compelled to watch it.
When watching, he will walk away from his iPad, squint his eyes, all while maintaining eye contact with the screen.
He started to bring his iPad to me to show me exactly what he was watching so I would say ‘if you are scared, you need to turn it off’.
Well, little did I know those simple words would result in a new restrictive, repetitive behaviour.
Tyson now feels the need to ask my permission for every show he watches, every time he fast-forwards or rewinds to a certain part, every time he decides to watch a new show or start a show over from the beginning.
Every. Single. Time.
Well, after a couple of days of this, I was about ready to pull my hair out. Can you imagine as a parent your child asking your permission (through gestures) for every show he watched?
For Tyson, who changes shows and rewinds and fast forwards like the weather changes here in Newfoundland, this can equate to as frequently as every 1-2 minutes.
It is as if he was stuck in a loop. He knows what he wants to do, but he can’t do it without asking me first.
So although as annoying as it was to reaffirm Tyson’s selection every couple of minutes I did not believe it was harmful to him.
I have found in the past that many of Tyson’s repetitive behaviours resolve on their own and in a couple of weeks or months he has moved onto something else.
However, this has not been the case this time. Tyson has been asking my permission for everything he watches since November.
I decided to get some expert advice, and the suggestion was if Tyson was only asking my permission perhaps redirecting him to someone else might break the loop.
It did not.
And despite additional advice to try ignoring his request and not provide an answer, I simply could not do that.
This is a child who has worked so hard to communicate from the moment he was born.
I remember when he was unable to point.
I remember when he was unable to tell us he was hungry or thirsty.
I remember when we practiced exchanging pictures of goldfish and juice packs and TV shows.
I can not ignore this child.
So, what happened next?
Tyson found these videos so upsetting that he decided to delete the YouTube app.
During that time, the repetitive question-asking trickled over into other areas such as when playing the Ninja Turtles Legends game on his iPad.
He would feel the need to confirm every move of these characters in the game.
When he would lose, he would get super upset. So we ended up deleting this app from his iPad too.
This would result in him asking for the YouTube app to be installed again and we were right back where we started.
That is until I got some brilliant advice from a fellow mom at a parent support meeting.
She suggested instead of me verbally telling Tyson what he could watch, perhaps I should try writing was I was going to say on a piece of paper and handing it to him. Tyson can read so it was worth a shot.
So, on a piece of paper, I wrote – “Yes Tyson you can watch that”.
In the beginning, when I gave Tyson the piece of paper I would repeat the words. Then I started just handing him the piece of paper.
He was a little frustrated at first, but guess what, it worked.
On occasion, he will still check with me when watching a show and on occasion, he will need a reminder to not watch that Skittles commercial but we have gone from him coming to me every 1-2 minutes to perhaps 5-10 times a day. Much more doable. and much less restrictive to his daily living.
When in doubt about what to do, check with a fellow parent. Who knows what brilliant idea they will come up with!!!
What sort of restrictive, repetitive behaviours do your children engage in? Have you ever had to intervene? Tell me about it in the comments.
3 thoughts on “Restrictive, Repetitive Behaviours, Electronics and Skittles”
Hmm… my first thought when I read this was “he’s obviously taken on what you’ve said, and is trying to learn something new. But his autistic brain, having trouble dealing with adapting to change (as autistic brains have a tendency to do) is a bit stuck as it tries to figure out what to do with this new information, so he is asking for help with it the best way he knows how.” But that’s just my impression from what you’ve written. Glad that having it written down that it’s okay for him to watch whatever it is he’s needing permission to watch, is working for both of you.
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Thanks for sharing your insight Kim. Although I don’t understand why he continues to be drawn to watch something that he clearly is scared of, I can understand that he may need help becoming ‘unstuck’. I hope one day he can explain all of this to us. Until then, we just have to try our best to support him anyway we can.
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Sounds like you have a good plan to me! I can’t answer why he continues to watch something that scares him, but your comment did remind me of when my niece was very young, and someone bought her a singing and dancing stuffed dog that was almost the same size she was, and all of Christmas day, she had this whole “approach-avoid” thing going on. It clearly scared her to a degree, but it also fascinated her, so that she kept coming back to it to watch it and then running away from it again, and then repeating the process. (pretty much how any young kid will learn to tolerate things that initially scare them or are unfamilar, and therefore suspect.) I have no idea if Tyson is doing the same thing or not, but the parallel struck me.
One other thought I have on the subject: why do people watch horror movies or read thriller novels? It makes no sense ot me. Never has. But some people really like being scared – in controlled ways. 🤷♀️. What can I say, people are strange. 😂.
As you say, maybe one day he will be able to explain it to you.
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