What are the things that interest you most?
Let me say right away that the term “special interest” annoys me. It feels like condescension, patronizing little pats on the head , and maybe even a bit of ridicule. “aren’t we special”???
Everybody has hobbies and interests. Autistic people seem to have intense experiences of learning surrounding our strongest interests. It can be very exciting, mentally stimulating, to think about and to learn about our favorite subjects in depth.
I want to try to define the intense-to-obsessive interests that most autistic people seem to have in one form or another.
Specific intense interests can ebb and flow, being at times more diverting, obsessive, narrow and specific than others, or suddenly disappearing as another interest takes hold of the mind.
This is probably true of almost all people growing up. This is probably true of most adults today as well.
Things differ in autism regarding interests; for many of us the depth of interest, the intensity of focus and the amount of energy and work that goes into learning about our subject or subjects is proportionately much greater and unusually, (as compared to neurotypical interest levels), autistic interests are much deeper in practice.
Interests will range from social issues, to specific people, to any of the sciences, even very specific specialties surrounding one small area of science.
Interests can be physical, such as athletic participation and achievement, musical, creative (making or creating anything from textiles, to woodwork, ceramics, automotive, industrial processes or skills for example), Interests can be farming, gardening, training animals or care-taking, psychology,electricity, or any other thing that catches and feeds our curiosity and interest.
Anything in the world can be of intense interest.
This trait can be the basis of a career for those who develop marketable skills using their passionate interest in computers, culinary arts, child development, nuclear science as applied to certain branches of medicine, etc.. an interest in cartoons can lead to a career as an artist or technician, in computer gaming to research and development of new computer technologies, etc.
Passionate interest in something like horses or fire trucks can lead eventually, if fed and stimulated, to veterinary school, becoming a specialist in selling horse realty properties,or a host of other animal related careers. Career paths with the fire truck lover could lead to becoming a mechanic or a manufacturer of electric sirens and fire alarms, for example.
Look beyond the current specific interest in a child and see if you can help lead related interests into career options.
If you are an autistic adult looking for interesting work, how can you turn your interests into a related job?
Ask others to help you look at your interests with career or profit making in mind, how can you break down the skills you apply to your interest to a way to make money?
I read over and over about parents who only allowed their child to follow their interests as a reward for performing other functions (clean your room, then you can use the computer for an hour to look up your special interest). If you don’t reach your parent’s goals, you are helpless to have satisfaction and stimulation, or enjoyment. You are punished using the very thing you love for not being able to do the things others seem to do so easily. What misery and feelings of despair and futility this causes. (ask me how I know)
I have met many people who try to shut down the interest because they want their child to be interested in something else. (he can’t bring his rock collection into the house because it is dirty and nasty, why can’t he join little league baseball instead ? ( actual example) What is wrong with this?
Instead of using the intense interest and excitement of discovery surrounding the subject,as a way to bring dimension, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction the autistic person, sometimes even as an adult, is instead shut down, criticized and degraded, or mocked… other minds thinking the specific interest shown is a waste of time or not useful.
If the interest is unhealthy, (and some interests can certainly be unhealthy), I can understand this thinking. When the interest is not socially or personally destructive, (if it satisfies curiosity, creativity, feeds intellect or gives insights, and stimulates thought, perceptions, promotes understanding, or otherwise is constructive in nature), it can be a portal to other things and used to help relate to others in so many ways.
Interests can be a passport to a career, to social interaction with others with whom we share interests, to satisfaction, healthy distraction and focus on good experiences and a way to escape pressures of a sometimes very difficult world ( how wonderful to be able to understand all about something we enjoy).
There are many explanations about “special interests” written by specialists and other autistic people. Some speculate that deep interests are a sort of self stimulation (stimming). I have said that learning, for me, is a form of recreation. Some psychologists see the intensity of interests as escapism, and have advocated restricting interests as a way of forcing autistic people to interact socially instead. This strikes me as another form of the “force them into the mold of being “normal”” school.
Were you actively discouraged from your strong interests in your childhood?
What might have happened if your interests were supported, gently directed, and your curiosity fed and stimulated instead?
As an old woman now, I can only speculate. I think things may have turned out very differently for me.
I am glad I live today knowing about my autism and I take great joy in learning new things about my favorite subjects.
I love interacting with others who share my interests, and exploring new interests without worrying about others in my household trying to divert me, chastise me, or keep me from learning and thinking about the subjects that give me such passionate curiosity and enjoyment and satisfaction of finding out more about them.