Restricted Interests

DSM 5 (APA, 2013) identifies a second category of core differences in autism, labelled as ‘restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities’.  Many of these behaviours are due to difficulties in flexible thinking, leading to a drive for a consistent routine and sameness.  Some examples of these differences include:

  • Difficulty tolerating change
  • Preference for familiar environments
  • Strong need for consistent routines
  • Preference for familiar activities
  • Dislike of new environments, activities and routines
  • Anxiety in response to unpredictability and change
  • Difficulty making transitions
  • Engagement in repetitive play activities
  • Fixation on a small range of interests
  • Unusual fixation on favourite objects
  • Drive for predictable routine and sameness
  • Repetitive behaviours

It is important to remember that some of these characteristics can become strengths. Some restricted interests, for example, can open social, leisure and employment opportunities.  An individual who is interested in technology can be introduced to a computer or coding club, and can work towards a career in IT.

However, restricted interests and repetitive behaviours can also have a negative impact on the development of life skills.  Some examples are given in the table below:

Restricted interest/repetitive behaviour Impact on life skill development
Avoidance of new environments Difficulty in generalising learnt skills to other environments.

Reluctance to use community facilities e.g. leisure centre, library.

Anxiety in starting work placement or employment.

Preference for familiar activities/avoidance of new activities Limits opportunity to develop new skills.

Lack of motivation/interest in learning new tasks.

Reluctance to join social/leisure clubs to try new activities.

Anxiety at times of significant life changes Difficulty transitioning to new schools.

Difficulty transitioning from school to employment/work placement.

Difficulty coping with unpredictable changes Anxiety when plans change e.g. bus is late, a shop moves its layout of products, a friend changes a meeting place at the last minute.

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