Age-Inappropriate Interests and Behaviors in Autism

Age-Inappropriate Interests and Behaviors in Autism

Causes, Impacts, and How to Help Your Child

People with autism , at every age and severity level, tend to be “young for their age.” In other words, they have at least some interests, behaviors, and emotional responses that would be expected in a much younger person.

Often these differences are mild enough or unobtrusive enough that they do not cause problems. Sometimes, however, age-inappropriate interests and behaviors can interfere with the person’s ability to fulfill their goals. When that happens, it’s possible to take constructive action.

There are a number of interrelated reasons why people with autism are often intrigued by “childish” activities, TV shows, and behaviors—even as teenagers and adults. These stem from and include aspects of autism itself, but may also include socialization, education, and therapies that are commonly experienced by children with autism. Roger Wright / Getty Images How Autism Can Lead to Age-Inappropriate Interests and Behaviors

Some of the core symptoms of autism include:

  • Rigidity1 (lack of willingness to change) and a need for routine
  • Lack of imitative skills or awareness of others’ expectations
  • Perseverative (repetitive) behaviors
  • Special interests or “passions”
  • Emotional immaturity2

All of these symptoms can, in many instances, lead to age-inappropriate interests and behaviors. The good news is that there are many ways to help your child develop more sophisticated interests and behaviors without asking them to give up their passions. Rigidity and Need for Routine

Once a child with autism has learned and mastered a particular routine, it can be very difficult for them to change it. However, in the United States, children are expected to master multiple routines at once: a home routine, a school routine, and a summer routine. And these routines change constantly.

The kindergarten routine may include learning centers and nap time, while the first-grade routine may include lining up at the cafeteria and sitting still in rows.For a child with autism, the change can be overwhelming, especially if it comes without warning. The outcome can be age-inappropriate behaviors or interests that come from well-learned and well-loved routines. Lack of Imitative Skills or Awareness of Expectations Typical children learn, to a large degree, through imitation of adults and peers. They are also keenly aware of and responsive to others’ expectations. As a result, they learn what is expected and, by and large, present expected behaviors and interests.But children with autism, with some exceptions, do not learn through imitation. Instead, they tend to learn through direct instruction. In other words, they don’t look around, observe their peers, and try to “fit in,” though they may be able to learn expected behaviors if they are taught.That means a child with autism may be completely unaware that their peers […]

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