Fixations can come in many varieties, and they’re common for neurodivergent and autistic people. While they can often be enjoyable and helpful, therapy can help if they become overwhelming.

Whether it’s video gaming, woodworking, or reading fantasy novels, we all have interests and hobbies we enjoy spending our free time on. In fact, you could probably name one of your interests or hobbies off the top of your head right now.

But for some people, especially autistic folks, it’s not uncommon for an interest to become a fixation. A fixation in autism develops when someone has an intense, focused obsession with a specific thing, such as an object, person, or behavior.

This article explores more about autistic fixations, including some examples of common fixations in autism and tips on how to engage with fixations in a healthy way.

Anyone can experience a fixation, and fixating on an interest is not something that’s exclusive to neurodivergent individuals. Yet fixations are more common in people who live with neurodivergent conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the diagnostic criteria for autism is “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.” Some examples of these can include:

  • repetitive movements, speech, or physical behaviors
  • ritualized and repetitive thinking, routines, or behaviors
  • fixated interests that are highly intense or focused
  • altered reactivity to or interest in sensory experiences

Outside of autism, fixations are also common in conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In OCD, however, fixations are more likely to be obsessions. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, feelings, or urges that produce significant anxiety.

Just like any hobby or interest, fixations in autism depend on the individual and what they’re interested in. Some categories of common autistic fixations can include:

  • art
  • music
  • books
  • magazines
  • TV shows
  • movies
  • video games
  • numbers
  • patterns
  • vehicles
  • animals
  • people
  • objects
  • skills
  • behaviors

For example, an autistic child with a fixation on sharks might want to read books about different species of sharks or buy clothes or accessories with sharks on them. Or an adult with a fixation on music might be very knowledgeable about different musical genres or artists.

Autistic fixations can be lifelong or change throughout your lifetime. For instance, an autistic person who has a certain fixation during childhood may grow out of that fixation, only to find themselves with a different fixation as an adult.

For autistic children, engaging in special interests can lead to better motivation, self-expression, socialization, and more. But when fixations become the main focus, they can make it difficult for children to function and engage in daily life.

If you’re the parent or caregiver of an autistic child, here are some ways that you can empower your child’s fixations while also setting realistic boundaries:

  • Explore different applications: Many people find that their interests in childhood fuel the paths they choose later in life, especially for schooling and careers. If your child’s fixation has an academic, artistic, or career application, consider exploring that with them.
  • Use it to your advantage: If your dino lover doesn’t like to brush their teeth, maybe a dinosaur toothbrush could help. Music lovers may find math easier to understand when looked at through the lens of time signatures, and so on.
  • Create boundaries or limits: Fixations can help autistic children engage with their interests, but they can also interfere with day-to-day life. It can be helpful to set aside time for fixations while also reminding children to engage in daily routines.
  • Address and redirect negative fixations: Some autistic children have fixations that are intrusive, harmful, or dangerous to themselves or others. If your child has a negative or unhealthy fixation, it’s important to address it and encourage healthier outlets instead.

While many autistic adults consider their fixations a personal strength, the added weight of responsibilities can sometimes make it even harder to find balance.

If you’re an autistic adult, many of the tips above can still apply — especially when it comes to exploring career applications and setting personal boundaries. But if you’re still having trouble finding balance, a therapist can help you explore healthy ways to enjoy your fixations while also engaging in daily life.

Learn more about finding the right therapist for you.

Fixations are one of the most common characteristics of autism, and many autistic folks experience fixations throughout their lifetime. While autistic fixations are largely positive and can offer a multitude of benefits, they can sometimes interfere with everyday life.

Therapy can be especially helpful for autistic people to find balance with their fixations while also making time to enjoy other aspects of life.