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Reducing Perseverative Thoughts in Autism

September 13, 2017

Many times, people wish to help individuals on the autism spectrum reduce or control their perseverative thoughts in order to increase focus/learning or to improve social functioning.

A Quick Lesson on Perseveration

Many individuals with autism will repetitively engage in the same behaviors, or think the same thoughts over and over, regardless of other factors in their environment. Sometimes this presents as watching the same cartoon clip (even a brief moment’s worth) over and over again, or it may appear as someone always reverting back to a similar cluster of thoughts. These perseverative behaviors can be reduced to improve focus or social functioning. This can be accomplished through friendly reminders from teachers/parents, or from the use of some type of reminder technology, such as Revibe.


Replace It Instead of Taking It Away


Provide a ‘replacement behavior’ that is paired with the reminder prompt. For example, instead of pairing a reminder prompt with, “When I remind you” or “When this device reminds you to focus, then you should stop thinking about Thomas the Train”, it will likely be much more beneficial to say, “When you are reminded by (person or device) to focus, you need to use your brain to park Thomas the Train at the station until later”. I have found this technique much more beneficial.


Use the Grocery Basket

grocery basket-1Another example I’ve had kids utilize (even kids who are quite concrete in their thinking) is to place all the items from their brain they can’t stop thinking about on the table (using their imagination). I’ll then have the kids introduce a motor function by taking their arms and “Swiping all the ideas off the table” and into a grocery basket for later. As silly as this may sound, I have had numerous children and their teachers report that this has been an effective strategy to alleviate perseverative thinking and increase time spent focusing.


I’d like to add that all of the blogs I write are based on my own personal experiences and opinions and do not reflect the opinion of any school system or professional organization. It is also important to realize that I am not an attorney and this does not constitute any sort of legal advice. For legal questions, seek a reputable lawyer specializing in educational law. For medical questions, seek a reputable mental health professional. 

Rich Brancaccio

Written by Rich Brancaccio

Rich spent much of his career working as a school psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorders, serving on several school district autism evaluation teams. Rich is truly passionate about helping children with various difficulties overcome obstacles to attain success. He has personally evaluated hundreds of children with various developmental needs, and provided consultation and insight for over one thousand cases.