Special interests are one of the most famous autistic traits. Is it true that all people on the spectrum love technology and dinosaurs? Let us find the answer.
What is a special interest?
Special interest is a thing you can spend weeks researching. You might also feel compelled to talk about it for hours and have difficulty recognizing the right moment to stop. Having a special interest means being passionate about something. People on the spectrum are not the only ones who experience a very strong passion for specific things; therefore, having a special interest is not enough to be diagnosed with autism. It has to be combined with other autistic traits.
For example, people with Attention Deficit Disorder are also known to have strong passions. Nonetheless, while their interests can be incredibly intense, they often last shorter than autistic ones. There are many similarities between hyperfixations and specific interests, but in general, a person with ADD is more likely to jump to a different hobby when the old one stops giving them a dopamine rush.
Special interests in autistic people have some characteristics that differentiate them both from the ADD hyperfixations and the usual free time activities of people without autism. The passions of people on the spectrum are:
- not only intense but long-lasting,
- affecting both positively and negatively numerous, if not all the aspects of life,
- so overwhelming it is difficult to make friends with people who do not share them,
- connected to problems in communication, such as not knowing when to stop talking about them,
- coexisting with other autistic traits, such as struggles with understanding social rules, unusually high need for routine, and hypersensitivity to stimulation.
Is it only science?
There is a very specific type of autistic person most often shown in media and treated as an example of what it means to be on the spectrum. This person is always an introvert, usually interested in science. Another thing about them is that they are much more likely to be a man than a woman. It is not a coincidence that blue is widely used as a symbol of autism. The popular image of a person on the spectrum is emotionally cold and male – the traits traditionally associated with this colour. For a long time, the scientists supported this idea. Nowadays, we know that autism is much more diverse than that.
Many people believe that only specific fields can interest an autistic person. The children are expected to be fascinated by dinosaurs or trains and the adults by mathematics, technology or science. There are indeed numerous autistic people who fit into this stereotype, but there are also many whose special interests are different. In fact, anything can turn into a life-long passion.
Some groups of special interests usually are overlooked, for example, the ones associated with femininity. There is no reason why an autistic person could not be fascinated by fashion, makeup, cooking, or dance, but these fields are rarely shown as an example of special interest. There is also a stereotype that autistic people think too conventionally to be good at art. That is also not true – only because people on the spectrum like having a routine does not mean they can not be creative.
You can observe a similar tendency when it comes to literature. Some people believe that a person on the spectrum cannot be interested in it because to enjoy a novel, you need to understand intricate social rules connecting various characters. It might indeed be difficult for an autistic person to understand many of the popular books, but that does not mean they cannot like literature. It is quite popular for books to describe outsiders with whom autistic people can easily empathise.
Anything can be a special interest, even the things that people usually do not associate with autism. What differentiates a special interest from a usual hobby is not the field or activity type but its importance and the specific autistic behaviours that coexist with it.
Having special interests has its negative sides, but it also has many advantages. People with such passions have a lot of potential and are able to gain a lot of knowledge in the field that fascinates them. It is very important to give autistic people a chance to follow their interests. One of the most important tools to help in it is inclusive education making it possible to learn without suffering from unadapted teaching methods.
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