When you catch a glimpse of your potential, that’s when passion is born.
— Zig Ziglar
In autism, one of the diagnostic criteria is to have “Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus”, with “Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, restricted to sharing of interests”. While this may sound like an affliction, it actually means that autistics will likely have a ‘special interest’ at expertise level.
I understand that some autistics hate the label ‘special interest’ as they feel this too narrowly defines their passions. I am using the term in this blog post to indicate that which you love to be involved in; that thing which makes your heart sing, which you know a lot about, and enjoy very much. For me it is: research (any topic), gardening, colour-matching, and teddy bears.
Benefits of cultivating a ‘special interest’
The obsession autistics have with their ‘special interest(s)’ means that they, unlike typical individuals, will quickly become experts in their chosen fields. They will spend hours researching, reading, immersing and involving themselves in this interest, even at the expense of other tasks. Yes, not eating because you’ve hyperfocused on researching your interest may sound bad… but it also highlights incredible FORTITUDE, which is a unique and amazing quality to have.
There are 3 main benefits of having a ‘special interest’–
- Expertise — Your dedication to your chosen ‘special interest’ shows determination and focus. You are an expert in your topic.
- Sharing — Your focus on your ‘special interest’ means you can make friends with others also fascinated by that topic.
- Connection — Your passion towards your ‘special interest’ can be harnessed for internships, employment, or options for volunteering.
Having a ‘special interest’ in something can have a positive impact on social interactions and friendships (as you can find others with the same interest and connect over that) AND they can be marketable skills.
If you adore butterflies and moths (lepidoptera, for those playing at home), you study butterflies, read about butterflies, seek out butterflies, and talk about butterflies, you will have immense knowledge of butterflies. While not all people will appreciate butterflies as much as you do, there are some who will. For example– museums, zoos, scientific institutes, research centres and academic conferences– at these places, people will love you and respect you for your love of butterflies.
How to reach others with your ‘special interest’
Having a passion for something is great, but you must get yourself out there, and let people know! Perhaps you have talked to your family and friends already and feel a bit dejected that they are not as passionate as you… but fear not! Here are some other ways to reach people:
- Start a blog chronicling your interests, and post a link to the blog on social media
- Write articles on your special interest, and submit them to your local paper or autism organization (include a note to the editor when you do this)
- Study your interest formally, by going to college or university
- Volunteer in the area of your interest (search online to find groups or businesses near you)
- Add your special interest to your resume, with a blurb about your research into the topic, how long you’ve been researching it, and why it inspires you
- Create your own magazine, e-zine, or website dedicated to your ‘special interest’
- Start a business (or charity) to sell your expertise, or immerse yourself in the topic while also giving to others
- Visit conferences dedicated to your special interest, so you can talk to researchers in the field, share your knowledge, and learn more
- Seek out jobs that embody your ‘special interest’ and apply for roles
- Attend social groups associated with your interest, or start your own
- Post on forums or reddit, and discuss your interest with others
Whether your passion is butterflies, IT, trains, classical Latin, neuropsychology, dogs, Minecraft, colour-matching, knitting, electric cars, or even 15th century buttons, there is always a place for you in the world. Your ‘special interest’ matters!
I highly recommend autistics to see themselves not as afflicted by “restricted interests”, but to be inspired in their expertise and connect. There are others out in the world who will embrace your knowledge and thank you for sharing 🙂