Autism and Special Interests – A Diverse Spectrum of Passions

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In the realm of autism, the concept of “special interests” unveils a fascinating tapestry of unique passions. Join me on a journey as I reflect on my experiences, from the diverse realms of dinosaurs and Lego to the immersive world of World of Tanks. In this exploration, I share insights into how individuals with autism process information differently, fostering deep knowledge and understanding within specific areas. Let’s unravel the intricacies of Autism and special interests. A diverse spectrum of passions and celebrate the diverse spectrum that defines the neurodivergent experience.

My wife accompanied me to my first interview with the psychologist when I underwent my autism assessment. When asked if I had any “special interests,” I replied no, to which my wife laughed and said, “I don’t know where to start, but he has many!”

I’ve never personally felt that I have “special interests,” mostly because I’ve never been particularly good at holding onto my interests. I engage in one thing for a while, get tired, and find something else. That’s why I never become a specialist in any field; however, I am quite a competent generalist. My son has his interests in a similar way to me.

Stegosaurus is what it’s called, as I’ve learned.

It’s been a half-year of dinosaurs, followed by a half-year of Lego, and then a half-year of Plants vs. Zombies, and so on. When we find something that interests us, we invest a lot of time and energy into it, disregarding what’s happening around us. You become very knowledgeable in certain areas, and there are autists who take this superpower to the extreme, winning Nobel Prizes.

For my part, I’ll never win the Nobel Prize in World of Tanks. Although I’ve spent a lot of time in the tank game in recent years, even though the subject is far from exhausted, there are other things that attract me. I could probably write fifteen articles about my various “special interests” since I’ve dedicated a lot of time to them. I’m naturally the kind of person who lets go of an interest and moves on to the next. Some autists stick to their interests throughout their lives, becoming incredibly knowledgeable and experts in their field. I’m the kind of person who learns a lot in a very short time and then settles for that.

My high-school theses…

My fascination with airplanes is a good example, and I actually wrote my high school final thesis on the B17 bomber during World War II. My history teacher found it amusing that a natural scientist student would chose such a topic, but I thought it was natural. Why would I write a thesis on something boring like friction or calcium concentration in lakes when airplanes were spinning in my head? My mom wondered many times why I never became a pilot or aircraft mechanic. The simple answer to that question is that I had moved on from airplanes, which occupied probably five to seven years of my childhood. I still appreciate an airshow, and I happily crawl around in a Hercules, but it’s not something that interests me on a daily basis anymore.

But why does the troll acquire these “special interests”? I think it’s because we have our own way of perceiving and processing information in the world. It’s difficult to categorize and prioritize what we need to take in. When we struggle to understand something, curiosity takes over, and we fixate on certain subjects and details. Perhaps that’s why Einstein won the Nobel Prize; he couldn’t understand the universe, and that’s where his superpower came in. He felt the need to simplify so he could comprehend what was happening. You develop deep knowledge and understanding in the subject, akin to a fixation. In the long run, this provides a sense of security and control in an otherwise complex and confusing world.

Do all autists have special interests? No, that’s not the case. Some individuals have other activities and interests that are important for their well-being and development. Activities like sports, recreational courses, creative projects, social activities, and the like. When I read about these alternative “special interests,” it struck me that I’ve been in that stage myself. Being active in a few associations was natural for me during a period of my life. It gave me social camaraderie while promoting some of my less interesting subject areas. I received support and encouragement from my family when I found these activities, and it’s something I hope all trolls get when they find a niche they appreciate. It’s crucial to have support in developing one’s talents and skills.

The difference for me between a special interest and involvement in an association is that the special interest can take up a lot of time and be the only thing I really want to talk about. Whereas the association takes time when it’s “scheduled,” and it’s something I let go of in between.

So much fun…

For example, I took a course in binding flies and baits for fishing, being interested in fishing. It was super fun to get those flies in order. But when I packed up my fly-binding bench, tackle, silk thread, and lacquer, I let go of the flies until the next occasion. I felt no need to look for new patterns in the magazine for the next occasion, nor did I need to air my opinions during the weeks. It was just an activity that I appreciated immensely, but mostly perhaps because it was a social thing.

But if we go back to my wife, what interests does she claim I have?

“You’re always at the computer.” And yes, that’s true, or well, not that I’m there all the time, but I spend a lot of time there, and I always have. It’s a safe place for me where I not only read the news and play games but also delve into a lot of different subjects. However, my interest is not strong enough for me to become an expert. When I tried to become a data scientist, it became too much screen time even for me.

Nowadays, it works…

“Anything involving mechanics/technology.” I’ve always been the one who takes things apart and investigates. I often repair things rather than throwing them away. My philosophy is that if it’s broken anyway, I might as well see how it works and why it’s broken. In the past year, I’ve repaired the gearbox for the rototiller, the tumble dryer, my son’s Nintendo Switch, the broken ventilation system, and many other things. If something breaks, it becomes a challenge.

“Old objects.” Perhaps associated with my interest in history. It’s not just old folk objects that interest me but also coins, furniture, and interior design.

My son needed a slightly special shelf…

“Craftsmanship.” Creating something, especially in wood, has always been with me. My first four in school grades that would later become a five were in crafts and craftsmanship. Nowadays, I’ve also had a few years as a professional interior carpenter, and I enjoy making and renovating furniture and interior on my free time. In fact, most of the furniture and all the interior in our homes have felt my touch. Renovated, manufactured, or adjusted to our needs.

But why do I not have just one subject? Maybe it’s because I’m restless by nature, or is it because I let go of my subjects when I understand them? I believe in the latter explanation. In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about my autism, but when I think I understand something within the subject, I let go of it. It emerged in my assessment that I constantly find new areas and subjects that are interesting, and the psychologist believed it was because my needs couldn’t be satisfied with just one subject.

Do you, as a reader, have a special interest, or are you more like me with fifty different ones? I’d love for you to share your experiences and your subject in the comments.


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