trying to understand perseveration

Last night, I was laying in bed with M2 reading her a story. M stomps up the stairs to her top bunk and angrily crawls over our bodies. I stop reading and ask him, “M, I see that you are angry.  What’s making you angry?  I would like to help.”  He replies, “I am just angry because my orange robot isn’t here yet.”  Ugh, the orange robot.  It is an imagined amazing toy that doesn’t exist anywhere but in the creativity and love for robots in M’s mind. This morning when M woke up, I was in the kitchen making lunches and he plopped himself down on the rug in the hallway watching me through the doorway.  First thing out of his mouth, “Is my orange robot here yet?”

Perseveration is one of the things we struggle with most often at our house these days.

“Perseveration refers to difficulties making transitions, shifting topics or thoughts, or moving on from one emotional state to another. Some people describe it as a tendency to “over-focus” on a subject. Neurologically related to brain damage in the frontal lobes, perseveration is a common characteristic of persons with FASD. Many FASD-affected individuals may “get stuck” (perseverate) so severely that it interferes with learning and staying on-task, or their ability to shift calmly and without prompting among topics and activities. Perseveration makes it difficult for persons with FASD to function appropriately at school, at home, or in the community.”  – FASD Network of Southern California

M perseverates most often on toys (and video games.) And when I say perseverate, I me he gets totally stuck on wanting and getting that toy.  I know that wanting and begging for toys is normal preschool behavior but this is beyond that. This definitely is related to anxiety and it is definitely not in the least about the toy.  He usually doesn’t even want the toy when he gets it, he will move right on to something else to perseverate about.  Right now its an orange robot. I have no idea where the idea of this robot originated. For about two weeks now, it’s his first waking thought.  He will ask about the orange robot over and over again.  “When is the delivery man going to bring my orange robot?” “I wish I had my orange robot right now.” “It’s taking too long for my orange robot to come.”  Mind you, I’ve told him that the orange robot is not coming. If I had said, “maybe” or “we will see,” that makes the persistence that much worse.   He needs very clear guidelines.  Also, at our house the “delivery man” is kind of like Santa Claus, sometimes cool stuff just arrives like magic.  He has no idea that I am doing all of this online shopping behind the scenes. We have been working on curbing perseveration and one of the ways is by consistently responding to his requests in the same way.  Now, if he is perseverating on something that might actually happen, i.e. a trip to the zoo, we try and be specific on the details so that he can relax a little bit.

M is chronically inflexible. He is not easy to distract or derail. In fact this is one of his good qualities as well, he tends to be very steadfast in all things. For now, I cannot expect him to stop talking about the orange robot.  In time it will probably be replaced by some other thought or desire. I try not to give in, but sometimes all I can do to get him to get unstuck is to give in. It’s a delicate balance.


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