Double Duty

Individuals with autism tend to get firmly attached to things – shirts, books, photos, pillows, people, routines, foods, chairs, teddy bears, magazines, cups, shoes, and even pieces of paper. What are our options when that extraordinary obsession with a certain object leads to an emotional storm when that object gets lost or wears out?

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PURCHASE DOUBLE. In the case of purchased items, take a trip back to the store and purchase a copy of a favorite item. When you see an obsession with a certain object is emerging, buy another one. You will end up with two of the same t-shirts, magazines, toys, pillow slips, shoes, or teddy bears, but peace and contentment around home or school is worth the investment.

TAKE PICTURES. Before the final pillow, teddy bear, or pair of shoes is wearing down to nothing, take pictures of your friend holding or wearing the favorite object. Sometimes the photos help smooth the transition to “life without my favorite pillow.” Also take photos of favorite pets, favorite cars, or favorite teachers to help smooth the transition to new pets, cars, or teachers.

SAVE THE SHREDS. When the t-shirt, blanket, or pillowslip is thread-bare and falling apart, rescue the shreds by sewing them in quilt fashion on a throw pillow. That allows your friend to stay connected to old favorites via the remnants. This may appear a bit fanatical to some people, but it makes perfect sense to a person with autism who deals with exceptional obsessions every day.

PRESERVE PAPERS. Make copies of favorite paper items such as photos, magazines, and books. You can also laminate paper items to help protect them from normal wear and tear. A friend’s son became quite attached to a simple drawing on a piece of paper. Because the drawing was large, we recommended the mom make several copies of the special drawing, shrinking the drawing to card size and laminating the card. This “above and beyond the call of duty” gesture allows her son to carry the card in his pocket rather than trying to keep track of a large piece of paper that has already become fragile from handling.

TIP OF THE DAY: Our friends with autism probably appreciate our recognizing their extraordinary obsessions and our efforts to help preserve their favorites.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget

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