“Special interests” or “obsessions” – people on the autism spectrum often have them. Depending on what you read and who’s writing it, this can be a bad thing (often, parents/professionals fall into this category) or a good thing (#actuallyautistic people fall into this category).
I recently read this post on Special Interests – and commented (autistikids). It struck a nerve for me because, while some autistic people might be LASER focused on a special interest – which we neurotypicals find “strange”, “weird”, “obsessive” – we neurotypicals seem to act like we don’t have them. And that, to be frank, is bullshit. (Warning: I get a little ranty-pants below)
Are you a sports fan? Do you have a favorite team? Do you watch EVERY game if you can? Do you know all the players’ names? Can you rattle off statistics?
Do you have a favorite TV show that you always turn in to and/or record to watch later? Do you know all the main characters, and possibly their family members’ names? Can you rattle off episode descriptions?
Do you have a favorite band? How many of their CD’s do you own? How many concerts have you gone to? Do you know the words to all their songs?
Do you collect anything? Do you look for that thing wherever you go? Do you remember where you got each piece?
Is there anything that, when you see, hear, etc., it fills you with a burst of “YES!” or a feeling of “Ahhhhhh”, or gives you the urge to sigh happily?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above questions – congratulations – you have a “special interest”. They shouldn’t be referred to as “special” because autistic people have them or because autistic people are “special”. They’re special because of the deep feeling of joy they carry – for EVERYONE.
A few days after reading the postI mentioned above, I went to Half Price Books – and there it was. The FEELING. One of my special interests is books/reading. I knew it before, but that day I KNEW it. Later in the week I walked into the library, and there IT was again. And knowing what it was, I reveled in it. I also watch Dr. Who – a show I’ve been a fan of for THIRTY-THREE YEARS. Yep – the feeling’s there, too.
I think, in the case of “special interests”, the social “awkwardness” or “lack of social awareness” that many autistic people have allows a level of true enjoyment of an interest that we neurotypicals have squashed out of us as we mature. “You’re too old for that”, “that’s stupid”, “why are you so excited about x?”, and the list goes on. Sure, we can go full out on music/sports/TV because they are “socially acceptable”, so that’s what we non-autistic adults focus on.
But ask yourself what you might still enjoy if you let yourself. What are you glad that your kids (if you have them) love so you can vicariously swim in their joy in that thing? Then give yourself permission to take that joy and enjoy it fully yourself.
We neurotypical’s need to take our “special interest” back, and we need to let others have theirs in peace.