The Fixation Behavior of an Autistic Child
Fixation is a common characteristic in the behavior of an autistic child. The child may be fixated on a book, a picture, a person, maps, music, numbers, or a movie. Whatever the fixation, the high functioning autistic child will become a resident expert on the subject. They will memorize and will be able to regurgitate in rote the exact amount of information they are fixated on. They may even to be able to read music aloud by sounding out the notes or something more simplistic, your child may be fixated by a music artist and have all their songs memorized.
Fixations can be a good thing. The old method of taking the fixation away from the child has been replaced with the idea of using the fixation to facilitate learning. If a child is fixated on a certain television cartoon, turn the sound off and let them read through close captioning what is going on. If they all the words to the program they are fixated on, they will soon begin to associate the words with actual audio sound. Not only does this placate the fixation, but it uses the fixation to stimulate learning in a new medium.
A little know fact about communication and fixation was what the autistic child looked at when they fixated. A research study that looked at video tapes of autistic children interacting during play showed that most of the time during verbal communication the child would fixate of objects instead of faces. When the child finally gave the person talking eye contact, the item of fixation was the mouth instead of the eyes. You can use this fact to be conscious of how your mouth moves when you are talking. If you get a positive reaction from a word, it may not be the word that motivates your child; it may be the position in which your mouth was in.
The eye contact problem has been addressed by research and the fixation of the mouth area mystery has been solved. Researchers say that the amygdale is responsible for creating a fear by looking in a person’s eye. Can you imagine not being able to look anybody in the eye because your brain registers their eyes as a threat? This is sad because for years teachers and parents have emphasized eye contact as a behavior change when actually they were making the students learn to deal with their terror.
Remember that fixation may be much more involved than just an over exuberant liking of one thing or another. The fixation may be a bridge between understanding and association. The fixation can be manipulated to a learning experience that not only contains the fixation information but adds everyday concepts to the fixation experience. Use all the senses when presenting something about the fixation and the concepts you want addressed. Let there be smells, visions, sound, and touch. If one sense does not make the connection then maybe the other sense will pick it up.
The fixation is not just misplaced attention to one subject. It is something that they can grasp and of course they are going to like it when they are actually communicating knowledge they are going to be successful at. Their brain has finally found a place of function and normalcy. To stifle their creative and learning experience by taking away their fixation may be a huge mistake. If the fixation is healthy and no a danger to the child, then embrace it and expand on it. The fixation and the concepts you teach in the alignment of that fixation can make your child’s life easier and happier.