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My 12yo son with a PDD-NOS diagnosis "wants to live in the past". Can't figure it out.


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Hello everyone. Thanks you for reading this.

I have a 12yo son who has been diagnosed with Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) some years ago. He does have trouble socializing and communicating, and is not currently on therapy, although he has done a bit social therapy in the past. He's been doing a lot of progress all these years, yet there is still a lot of work to do.

Her mother and I are deeply worried lately because there is something about his behavior we do not really understand. Some months ago he's become obsessed with "the future", as if modern things are bad. He says he wants "to live in the past". As a means to achieve that, he tries to watch old documentaries and, he says, tries to repeat actions he did the last year, as if to re-live the past. When he is not able to watch the videos he wants to see for a long time he becomes anxious. I think he fears if he does not see the videos he will start having obsessive, recurring thoughts about "the future" that will torture him.

We are not really sure what is going on, and he does no express himself in ways that are always understandable. An uncle and an aunt of his have had mayor psychological issues (his uncle is schizophrenic), so we are worried this might not be related to his PDD-NOS but to something else.

I think his thinking on the subject of "the past" and "the future" is, although strange, consistent. I don't think it is, in its own terms, irrational or delusional. It seems to me it looks more like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) than schizophrenia, and his obsession with "re-living the past" looks to me more like a ritual than a hallucination. Still, we are sure he does need some sort of therapy as soon as possible, because he's suffering because of this.

Have you ever witnessed or experienced something like this? What sort of therapy would you recommend for my son?

Thank you again for reading!
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He probably just realizes how messed up our current society is at a young age and is trying his best not to think about it. I've been there before and I am not schizophrenic. What helped me is learning that I can't change society, no matter what I do or try. He's probably too young to learn that and maybe his issue is entirely different too.
To me that looks like a person trying to ensure his safety.
He doesn't know the future, because no one really does.

He does know that he lived through his past successfully enough
to still be alive. Repeating the past could be a way to feel safe.
@Sillyman433 consult a professional if you're concerned there may be something else at play. But I can think of (and relate to) other things that might cause that kind of thinking and behaviour.
he dislikes change !!!!!!but his neurology!!! means he cant!!! adapt the way you! do !he adapts by rejecting any experience that represents negative change! that will be a certain percentage of what neurotypicals consider positive !the past is no longer change ,often people labeled !!!!!! with autism like Sherlock Holmes a representation of what is logical and has meaning !!embrace what he values ,you will benefit hugely.
This honestly sounds like a fairly common trait of being on the spectrum.

A lot of us get kinda stuck in a rut. A little safety bubble. It can take any form, and we dont like it when that form changes, or when we're forced to step out of it. So, we will repeat actions over and over, not letting any change in... even if some of those actions might perhaps be outright dangerous or risky, they're still part of that "safe" repetition. It's part of how the whole spectrum thing works, sort of.

Whether or not the "future" is good or bad is irrelevant, with that. It's simply about it being an unknown factor, and unknowns are scary and not safe. Seriously, even when we KNOW something is good... it can still be scary because it's unknown. I have that happen ALOT. Where it's like, okay, there's this thing I wanna do, and I already KNOW the result will be good... but there's some aspects of it that are a little different, a little unknown. So despite the "it'll definitely be good", and despite any logic that people point out I still get scared of it (and then surprise, when I actually go do the thing that I knew would be good, it turns out that it was indeed good). That might seem kinda idiotic to some people, but it's just the way I am.

The past is an easy thing to cling to because it's an easy thing to look at and think about. But really, that thing we "cling" to could be anything... it's different for each person. For your son, it might be historical stuff as you mentioned. For someone else it could be freaking vacuum cleaners. We often refer to these things we hyper-obsess over as "special interests", if you've never heard of that term. Most of us here on the forum have one, and they're not a bad thing at all, but we do get darned obsessive over them.

Anyway, that's just some thoughts from someone that experiences some similar things, and has some of the same anxiety whenever my obsessions/interests are interfered with. We can offer ideas and advice here, but as stated above, we cannot truly diagnose anything... we arent professionals. But we try to help as we can.
That sounds more like a person on the spectrum to me. (As an aside we are all just on the spectrum ourselves or friends/ family of autistic people - no mental health professionals) A lot of imagination and unusual approaches to problems, as well as sometimes disconnect with real world situations. Also a tendency to use various things (repetitively) to comfort themselves.
I believe the other posters have correctly stated the effect. Here is the mechanism.

All levels of autism are PDDs. That means that our neurology fails to develop in NT fashion and/or to NT levels. The problem is that our environment is unceasing in its changes. That would include
  • Our bodies (sexual maturity & aging),
  • Our social circles (their conventional development & aging),
  • Casual technology (does anyone remember magnetic media?)
(That is all that I can think of, right now.)

New circumstances force us to adapt. In some ways, that adaptation is a type of growth.
NTs adapt readily.
Aspies/ASD1s usually have enough development to adapt, if grudgingly.
Depending on their co-morbid load, ASD1.x+ are least able to adapt.

I don't have any proven techniques, but I have an idea that you can try.
  1. Find a hobby that he is interested in that has minimal ties to media. Even history and antiques would be okay.
  2. Accommodate that interest with old-school resources, like library books.
  3. As he gets hooked on a perseveration, his old-school resources will begin to run thin forcing him to consider the internet as a continued resource.
  4. If he goes on to get involved in forums of like-minded hobbyists, he will have to adapt to their idiosyncrasies in order to stay in the game, so-to-speak.
(That is just my experienced amateur recommendations.)

For more professional ideas, see Autlanders, Thriving Outside of the Box: Finding Support Resources in the USA...

(Even if you aren't in the USA, the on-line resources are very helpful.)
Who isn't terrified of the future these days? Just look at the present. When I was a kid I'd thought the future would be really cool and like The Jetsons. Instead it's more like the Twilight Zone.:fearful:
When I was a kid I thought the past seemed way cooler than the present, so I spent a lot of my time reading history and mythology books, looking at documentaries and historical-themed movies, decorating my room with fossils, carving tools out of wood, foraging for food and hanging around in trees looking for prey to pounce (I never actually pounced on someone, although I did pelt some unsuspecting passerby with tiny apples).
For me it was a harmless phase that passed as I grew older. Although the fascination with history never passed.
A fascinating post. Thank you for posting, Sillyman.

My 34 year old NT neighbor has related to me the exact same circumstances occurring in his life. He is seeing a counselor who is helping him with is his fear of the future ..... the unknown. His anxiety occurs when he imagines the future being much worse than it really will be. Professional help has been key.

Please note the previous forum posts clearly address this issue very well. I only posted this comment to enforce the idea that allowing the child to sit down with a counselor to discuss the root cause of his fear may be a prudent step.

Once again, thank you for your post. I hope that the result you need for you and your son is found.
Have to agree with some of the other comments.

Those who prefer security over freedom. And with all the hindsight one can derive from the past, it would seem a better choice for such people than all the unknowns of the future. Especially for those of us aggravated by constant and even routine change.

It's understandable, though not particularly realistic in today's world.
Thank you for all you kind and informative answers. They are all really helpful and do mean a lot to me!

Some of you have expressed having experienced similar issues in the past. How did you cope with it? My son can be pretty obsessive about this and sometimes he does suffer because he can not get rid of the recurrent thoughts. When in a similar situation, what have you done to mitigate the problem?

Again, thank you a lot for reading and for your kind answers!
I don't have any real answers. It is very subjective and one has to sort of feel there way thru it. But one general approach is to try and find out what things specifically bother him or what he objects to and explain the situation very clearly and logically. Anxiety in particular, is a very common co-morbid condition to autism. You might have to repeat the process many times. One thing to avoid is overly emotional negative responses. Positive reinforcement works with patience but negative reactions, and shaming are usually counterproductive.
Thank you for all you kind and informative answers. They are all really helpful and do mean a lot to me!

Some of you have expressed having experienced similar issues in the past. How did you cope with it? My son can be pretty obsessive about this and sometimes he does suffer because he can not get rid of the recurrent thoughts. When in a similar situation, what have you done to mitigate the problem?

Again, thank you a lot for reading and for your kind answers!
it’s not obsession as you know it !again you need to learn about his neurology ,learn about his traits ,really learn about them ,this is not nice to say but what really changed me was when my mother died ,our neurology means we cannot socialise the way you do ,his recurrent thoughts as you call them are just the way he processes the world, You are perceiving him in the only way you can, in a neuro typical way! but that doesn’t make it completely accurate ,unless you have autistic neurology it would be near impossible to perceive the world as he does,He also has the comorbid condition of anxiety ,which is common to both neurologys ,the difference is we find it very! painful .But remember the human brain has a coping mechanism, if something becomes too painful it deadens perception.
We take a long !!!!!!!!time to learn socialisation it has taken me over 30 years to realise people will not just behave the way I want them to know one thing you need to do start teaching him to be independent, it was horrific for me when my mother died ,if I had learned to be Independent before then ,I wouldn’t have the health problems I have now .
I’ve survived and I think part of the reason is my mother didn’t have any choice, I am not from the typical nuclear family .
also because when I was your sons age there was no education about high functioning autism .I didn’t know hf.autism existed until the late 1980s, I knew what is labelled low functioning autism existed because there was a school near to my secondary school ( High school ), it’s only in the last 15 years that I had any contact with Aspergers syndrome! as it was called and that was only seeing somebody with an assistance dog , I cannot imagine the person liked the fact that name was displayed on the dogs tabard.
what bothers me is anxiety not autism potent would help me with prayer communicating via pictures instead of written text finding a tiny amount of words in a language that didn’t stress me ,mindfulness for me which will probably be what your son will like !adult colouring books and specifically me water colour pencils , again for me diecut 3-D decoupage .That’s making a 3-D image from an image and then adding smaller and smaller amounts of the image That appeals to me I think because I have very, very poor eyesight !naturally, I had laser surgery so that changed what I could perceive,One thing to do if you don’t already get them onto multivitamins our energy demands are slightly or more above neuro typicals make sure he has potassium encourage him to eat raw vegetables and fruit it’s fairly common for us to have problems with our immune system If he has large amounts of processed sugar get him onto fruit , bananas, tomatoes ,dates , pineapples,Almonds, small amount of peanuts as peanut oil is used a lot in processed food, walnuts full of minerals ,If you can get him onto plant milks ,animal milk is made for baby !animals and he’s not at the age to be drinking milk for a baby animal, plant milk ( try sweetened soya )has the calcium he will need without the cholesterol, autistic people are susceptible to high cholesterol . One thing I’ve learned is to force myself ,that means leaving the house ,leaving my room and not running everywhere ,Try!!!!!! to get them to think about other people I started with greetings cards ,like the education system does ,making a greetings card for someone .
When I was a kid, I rejected the world as well, mostly due to being disappointed and scared of the way society works. I would lock myself down in my room with books, mostly fantasy or science fiction, things that were as different from everything around as possible. The way it worked was illogical and I couldn't understand it, couldn't find the pattern and it made me fearful.

It will pass when he accepts the world for what it is - but. Try to make sure that he still has contact with reality, real people, your family. Choose things he considers safe, places that are familiar and avoid sudden change - but make an effort to try to connect to him at least every few days. Not all the time, mind you, he needs time to process some things. Maybe also try to ask him if there was something that scared him and caused him if there was something he didn't like or that disturbed him. Don't use complicated words for emotions and if he seems to have trouble to tell you anything, ask if he could maybe draw it. Just... don't leave him fully alone or he will isolate himself even more. My parents left me to my own devices and I can tell you that it doesn't help - just like crowding him and demanding constant attention never would. We may not like it but we need human contact from time to time to stay 'above the surface'.

Listen to him, ask him, stay with him, try to understand and accept. Don't forget that he's there. One day he'll be grateful for your presence.

Some on the forum may be surprised why I recommend the parents to take him out of his bubble from time to time and to spend some quality time together both inside and outside it. However, obsessive interests aren't always good. As a child, I could sink into them so much that I would do nothing else. I wouldn't eat because I wouldn't realise that I'm hungry. I wouldn't sleep because I wouldn't realise that I'm tired. I wouldn't wash, I wouldn't go outside, I would do that one thing and nothing else. It didn't start like this but the more I was allowed to sink in without being checked on, the more I would stay in that state. I wouldn't know how to stop.

Of course, he may not be like me. It's called a spectrum for a reason - but it's never healthy when you start to spend every waking minute on something every day for weeks, months, years. Yes, even for us. We need our interests and our safety net but extremes are never good.
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I think for this type of person, cyber school would be an excellent option. Certain states in the US offer it out of your taxes dollars and private ones exist internationally for a premium fee- I believe 20k+ per year.

This kind of person can feel safe and not distracted from things in the outside world and be able to focus on learning and completing work on the computer only.
Thank you for all you kind and informative answers. They are all really helpful and do mean a lot to me!

Some of you have expressed having experienced similar issues in the past. How did you cope with it? My son can be pretty obsessive about this and sometimes he does suffer because he can not get rid of the recurrent thoughts. When in a similar situation, what have you done to mitigate the problem?

Again, thank you a lot for reading and for your kind answers!

Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to it. The obsessive aspect of the condition will never leave.

For me though, the one thing that works whenever I'm overly anxious or stuck in some bizarre mental loop, is to force myself to do something else that is mentally engaging enough, so that I essentially dont have mental "space" available for the negative stuff. In my case, that's video/board games, or maybe playing with the dog, whatever. Needs to be intense enough to require my full concentration. It can be hard to START doing an activity when I'm anxious, but I just force it anyway. I usually find then that the anxiety sort of just pops, and while I may be in another mental loop after I'm done... the repetitive thoughts... those thoughts will instead be about the activity I just did. Which then might encourage me to go do some other stuff too.

It's unfortunately easy for us to get stuck in a rut, and it's more damaging to us than many seem to know. Breaking out of that rut for a bit is important.

Of course, how you could get your kid to do this, I have no idea. I do this to myself... I cant even guess how I could coerce someone ELSE to do it, if someone I knew were in that situation. I doubt just yelling "DO A THING" would be particularly helpful, but that's about as far as my plans go...

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