How to Balance Studying with an Autism Related Obsession

Three Methods:Achieving a Sense of BalanceTime Management StrategiesMaking Studying More Appealing

Are you autistic, and are you concerned about the time you spend compiling train table data, drawing pictures, tinkering with computer parts, or doing whatever your special interest is? Are your passions interfering with your studies? This is a common struggle for autistic people. While this article is aimed at autistic people, it may also useful for people who have ADD/ADHD, have other disabilities, or are not disabled.

Method 1
Achieving a Sense of Balance

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    Recognize that your special interest is important. Special interests help you develop skills, achieve mastery in a field, and balance your mental health. They may even turn into an excellent career. You should never feel guilty for taking time to do the things you love.
    • To maintain balance, set aside plenty of time for your passions each day.
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    Start early, and give yourself plenty of breaks. It's difficult for you to concentrate if you've been doing math problems for two hours straight. Schedule breaks into your study sessions (whether they're 5 minutes or half an hour) so that you can take time to rebalance your brain.
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    Stop when you get too worn out. Exhaustion, lack of focus, and broken concentration are your body's signals that it needs a break. Take five minutes to get up, get yourself a drink, or just walk around the room a little.
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    Avoid cramming or pulling all-nighters. These will hurt your physical and mental health, as well as harming your performance. You may find yourself making simple mistakes out of sheer exhaustion. Make sure that you take time to breathe, and get at least seven hours of sleep before a big test.
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    Vary your studying strategies to accommodate your attention span. Switch between taking notes, writing flashcards, illustrating your notes, and getting friends to quiz you. Using a variety of strategies will help to keep you from getting bored.
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    Ask other autistic people about their time management strategies. The autistic community is full of experienced people with tips and ideas. Try checking out articles from autistic bloggers, or finding people through the hashtags #actuallyautistic and #askanautistic.

Method 2
Time Management Strategies

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    Give yourself a daily studying goal for each class. By the end of the day, you should have met your goals for each class. Use a visual method to represent your progress.
    • Example: 1 hour calculus, 30 minutes Engineering 101, 15 minutes Spanish, 15 minutes Feminism.
    • If you meet your goal by the end of the day, give yourself a reward. Take a walk, watch some of your favorite TV show, or dedicate the rest of the night to your special interest. This gives you something to look forward to.
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    Use food as a motivator as you study. Prepare a reasonably-sized snack beforehand, but don't start eating right away. Instead, only take another bite after you've finished a tiny goal. Since you can't reach back into the bowl until you complete another goal, your hunger will force you to keep working. For example:
    • For each paragraph you translate, eat another slice of your pear. Continue until you finish your homework or your pear.
    • Each time you complete another math problem, eat another pretzel.
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    Use a bar graph to represent your progress on certain projects. Whenever you complete a step, fill in part of the graph. Filling in each square of the bar graph will give you a feeling of satisfaction, and it will help you visualize an end to your task.
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    Use a token system for intensive study environments. Create two bowls, one labeled "study time" and the other labeled "free time." Whenever you complete X minutes of study time, move a token from the "study" bowl to the "free" bowl. Later, you can cash in that token for X minutes of free time. Studying buys you special interest time.
    • For example, spend 30 minutes on your calculus homework, and put a token into the free time bowl. That evening, use your token for 30 minutes of time to edit wikiHow articles.
    • Change the units of time depending on your attention span and homework level.
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    Make a daily schedule. This may seem strict at first, but once you fall into the routine, it should feel natural. It will help prevent procrastination and keep you on track. Talk about a schedule with your family, and enlist their help if you need to.
    • 2:30 PM (1430) Get out of school
    • 2:45 PM (1445) Arrive home. Start *obsession/hobby*
    • 3:30 PM (1530) Study/do homework
    • 4:30 PM (1630) Start hobby again
    • 5:30 PM (1730) Eat.
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    Reward yourself for your successes. Hard work is a reward in itself, but a little extra incentive never hurts. Do something special for yourself if you succeed: a favorite dessert, a long warm bath or other sensory experience, a TV show, or a special project involving a favorite person or interest.

Method 3
Making Studying More Appealing

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    Keep your study space clean and organized. This way, you won't have anything physically in your way when it's time to study.
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    Make studying a comfortable sensory experience. Sit in a comfortable place, where it's quiet. Use white noise or earplugs if you live in a noisy environment. Wear comfortable clothes and play relaxing music.
    • If you are hungry, try bringing a snack.
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    Vary your studying tools. There are many different ways to study—reading, making flashcards, experimenting, getting help from a loved one, et cetera. When you get tired of one, take a break and switch to another.
    • Consider different learning styles: visual, auditory, global, kinesthetic, etc. How can you incorporate several of these into your studying?
    • If your instructor allows you to choose projects, pick one that can be done in a learning style you like.
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    Find useful stims to use when studying. Stimming may help you regulate your senses and focus on your work.
    • Sit on an exercise ball or rocking chair so you can move around.
    • Keep some stim toys, such as tangles and stress balls, in a little box on your desk. You can hold a stim toy in one hand as you study, or mess with them as you think of ideas.
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    Try to study things that relate to your special interests. For example, if your special interest is trains, try taking engineering and robotics courses. If you're passionate about short stories, take literature classes. Studying becomes much more fun if you're learning about something you love.
    • Consider a career path related to your special interest. For example, a young woman who enjoys computer games may become a happy and successful computer programmer. Special interests can be incredible tools that lead to satisfaction and mastery in your career.


  • Ask teachers, peers, siblings, or parents for studying advice.
  • If you're in therapy, mention to your therapist that you'd like to build study skills. He or she may know some specific strategies.


  • If you have persistent worries about your studies, or are doing poorly in school due to poor time management, tell someone. You can get help.

Article Info

Categories: Autism Spectrum | Homework Skills