All of us are quite familiar with our children having obsessions. We see them as hurdles and try to disengage our children from them, but it doesn’t work, does it? That’s because our children’s brains are wired differently. I had the same issue with my son. I tried my best to disengage my son from his obsessive interests but eventually realized that I was spending more time disengaging my son than engaging him. That just wouldn’t do. So what could I do about it? Well, you know they say – If you can’t beat them then join them – and that’s exactly what I did.
My son’s obsession was cars. He talked, breathed, and dreamed cars. I thought about how I could use them to teach him things. One day, I sat down with him with his huge collection of toy cars that he had lined up on the floor and started counting them. Then I invented a game where I grouped his cars into two teams that raced against each other, eliminating the car which came last every round. In no time, my son learned number sense, counting, grouping, addition, and subtraction.
In another game, we built a whole city using LEGO blocks (another one of his interests) and used his toy cars to enact different real-life scenarios. Hungry cars (cars that were out of fuel) went to the petrol pump, injured cars (cars that had been in an accident) went to the service station, bored cars raced, and tired cars parked themselves in the garage. As he grew older, he stopped personifying the cars and gave them drivers who drove them around. The cars took care of their drivers by fulfilling their needs (taking them to the office, mall, hospital, etc.) and the drivers took care of their cars.
We played different games to learn different concepts. We played hide and seek with cars and learned about color, size, location, and position. We did maintenance of the cars and learned about self-care and responsibility. We raced the cars and learned about speed, distance, action and consequence, and so on.
I also used cars as a motivational tool to teach my son everything from potty training to problem-solving. Over time, his obsession with cars decreased and he had a new obsession (usually from the things that he had just learned), and so our journey continued.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am neither a doctor, a therapist, nor a special educator. I am the mother of a teenager with autism. Everything I write and share is based on my personal experiences with my son and should not be taken as professional advice.