Encountering the Special Interest
It’s all the little things we enjoy. It’s all of our hobbies, the activities; it’s everything that fascinates us. We have interests. Everyone has interests. When it comes to explaining what it means for someone with autism to have a special interest, things may be a bit more complex.
Someone with autism, like myself, may have a special interest that excites them to a point where it is the only thing we like to think about every single minute. It’s calming. We eat, sleep and enjoy our special interests. We may sometimes have trouble communicating with others without mentioning our special interest. Sometimes we just don’t understand or know how to interact with someone else who may not share the same passion.
Many people with autism struggle to maintain social interactions. Our special interests may make it difficult for us to connect with a family member, friend or romantic partner. Reflecting upon my own special interest, starting in my freshman year of high school, I was extremely interested in professional wrestling. To this day I have a passion for the profession, but I was able to learn how balance my lifestyle between the sport and still manage a healthy relationship with my peers. And when I say professional wrestling, I do mean the kind where big muscled men power bomb each other through tables.
Today I have an easier time maintaining a healthy love for the sport because of the close bond I have with a few of my friends, who also enjoy this form of entertainment. But in high school, it was a whole different story.
This blog has been contributed by author Matthew Kaiser. He is a 24 year old graduate from Marshall University, where he studied creative writing. In his spare time he loves exploring all types of literature, such as film, comics, fiction novels or even writing his own Adult Fantasy World while he works with AAoM’s employment program to eventually find work in which he can use his creative abilities to better the communities around him
I only had one friend who also had a love for wrestling, but he was not around all the time. Sometimes he was gone for days. And my life revolved around wrestling and nothing else. I had no one else, but him, to share my passion with. When my high school friend was gone, I would still have an urge to share my passion of wrestling with others. Sometimes this meant writing school papers on the topic, whenever I could, or discussing the topic with my mother. It was discussing the topic with my mother that made this whole thing problematic. She obviously didn’t care for the sport. She didn’t mind that I loved the sport, but she didn’t want to hear about it either. That didn’t stop me from telling her all about it. It overwhelmed her. I never noticed, because I just couldn’t pick up on all the social cues. Sometimes, after a bit of wrestling talk, I thought she was angry with me for telling her about wrestling. In reality, she was most likely just frustrated or didn’t care because she may have had a rough day at work. I get it. It happens.
So now we had to figure out how I could maintain this social interaction with my mom, while not overwhelming her with too much wrestling information. This was tough. It took patience and it took practice from both my mother and I. And in many situations, it took many reminders. That is, she had to remind me that I was overwhelming her. We had to sit down and she had to tell me that I was only allowed to talk about wrestling a tiny bit each day. Like for example my mother would say, “Hey Matthew, you can talk about wrestling for no more than two minutes. That’s all I can handle.” Or, “Please, I know your show is on right now, but I would really like to watch something else while we eat dinner.” It was tough. I didn’t like missing a second of wrestling. But learning to be flexible was part of the learning process. Flexibility is the strategy needed to balance this healthy connection with a friend or family member, like my mom, and balance a healthy relationship with a special interest.
Special Interests are a healthy way that people with autism, or anybody for that matter, can express themselves. It is just that. Learning to be flexible might just be the toughest part for someone with autism to deal with. I remember it was tough for me. One step I took to learn how to overcome the struggle of overwhelming someone with too much information was to ask questions. When I made a new friend, I would ask them about their special interests or their hobbies. It helped me develop listening skills and patience. And while it did take years to perfect, and even to this day I have trouble sometimes, it was achievable.
So go out, practice the balance between social interactions and the love for your special interests. And always remember no matter how much you may frustrate someone with your topic, never stop loving your special interest! It is who you are and it is what makes you, you.