The idea of people with autism having a special interest or passion about one particular subject is a very common one. Sometimes these can be things as everyday as having a passion for Star wars, other times they can be more obscure, such as spoons. Some believe these are a positive way of people expressing themselves, and finding enjoyment in life, while others argue that they are all-consuming obsessions which further alienate already socially-awkward people. This series of articles will look at the positives and negatives of special interests, and try to determine whether they really are a good or bad thing.
Sometimes people with autism find it incredibly difficult to express their emotions. Even in moments such as the loss of a family member, they find that one of the few ways they have of dealing with their emotions is to lose themselves in their special interest. Something that for most of their life may have been merely fun, becomes a coping mechanism at times of emotional overload, helping them through very difficult situations. Even, on smaller, everyday stresses and strains, the special interest can help them to cope. For example, thinking about a certain subject while doing something that they dislike, or knowing that they will devote time to their special interest after they have done something that they don’t want to do.
Special interests can also be sociable as the autistic person may be more likely to join a group that is devoted to their special interest, and if they are unable to do this there is always the internet. Even the most obscure of special interests will not be singular to one person. If the person doesn’t want to socialise in real life, they may enjoy talking to people on-line who share their interest. This can often lay the foundation for them being better able to cope with socialising in real life, should they wish to. As well as this, it may also give them confidence, knowing that they are not the only person in the world who has a passion for a certain subject.
Also, it is important for everybody to have something in life that they enjoy – everybody has a special interest or passion to some degree. Of course autistic people take it to a higher level than most, but at its most basic form having a special interest is a perfectly normal and healthy thing – unless it completely dominates every aspect of somebody`s life, and inhibits them from thinking about, or doing anything else. But even having an all-consuming passion can be positive at times; anybody who reaches the top level of any particular career will say that they put nearly all their time and energy in to that one particular part of life. A lot of autistic people build careers out of their special interest. The fact that their mind is already so focused on a particular subject gives them an advantage over other people who may be pursuing the same job or career.
There are a lot of positives that can come from having a special interest, from improved confidence to a full career. Special interests are so wide and varied that some positives may apply to most – but not all – and as with anything connected to autism it is impossible to put out a statement that will apply to every single person on the spectrum.
The next article will address any negatives that may come from special interests and will be available here.