Your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster is naturally - and very heavily - drawn to very select topics or subject areas. As a mother or father, it will be important for you to recognize your youngster's areas of specialty and understand how to build upon them. Doing so will make your youngster feel tremendously valued, because you are communicating that you “get” the importance of the Special Interests (i.e., areas of passion and intrigue). Special Interests may be used as links to life-defining opportunities in learning, relationships, and employment.
One of the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers is “unusually intense preoccupation with one or more stereotyped interests.” This sets a negative precedent in how your youngster's interests are perceived. The use of words like “preoccupation,” “fixation,” and “obsession” are not helpful in everyday life. They imply that such special interests are socially inappropriate, inappropriate to one's chronological age, or a hindrance with no real value or purpose. But why are “normal” kids allowed to have hobbies while those with differences are deemed “obsessive-compulsive”?
Aspergers children have an absolute fascination with certain subject or topic areas and have become expert in their knowledge. The world's most advanced thinkers, talented artists, and brilliant inventors propelled whole cultures with their astounding expertise. As an advocate for your "Aspie," you will want to dispel “obsessive-compulsive” stereotypes and promote acceptance of his Special Interests in just this manner.
Identifying your youngster's Special Interests isn’t difficult. His Special Interests are those things that — more than anything else — he really enjoys doing. He may love to:
- Create models or other three-dimensional replicas of it
- Draw it
- Read about it
- Re-enact or personify it
- Research it at the library or on the Internet
- Sing about it or create musical interpretations of it
- Take copious notes about it
- Talk about it
- Watch it on television
- Write about it
Your youngster's area of intrigue may correlate directly to an academic area of school in which he excels (e.g., math, physics, music, etc.). He may also indulge his Special Interest through extracurricular classes or clubs, or after-school or weekend activities. He may “set you up” with questions in which he grills you for answers that only he may know, and then feign disbelief that you don't provide the very complex, intricate correct response. It may be easy to become annoyed or distracted by your Aspie’s focus or to fall victim to the idea that it represents “strange” behavior. It will be important for you to learn that your youngster's Special Interests are an amazing strength to be recognized and validated.
Examples of the Special Interests of some Aspergers kids include:
- Architecture, including churches and cathedrals
- Astronomy, planets, and constellations
- Cartoon animation and comics
- Music, especially classical music
- Oceanography and specific marine life species
- Specific famous people such as prominent scientists and researchers, actors and comedians, or religious figures
- Specific movies such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Wizard of Oz
- The animal kingdom, including specific creatures such as horses, reptiles, and insects
- The human body and how it works
- Wheels or other parts of automobiles, trains, trucks, tractors, and planes
At every opportunity, you can find your youngster steeped in his Special Interest — it's what he wants as gifts for birthdays and holidays or what he enjoys talking about with visiting relatives. You may be astounded at the depth of detail with which your Aspie can conjure up information at will and without effort. He could spend hours absorbed in his most fervent interests, to the point where you might have to insist he take periodic breaks.
You must understand that your Aspergers youngster's personality — his entire identity — is defined by his Special Interests – the two are that closely aligned. How you receive and accept his Special Interests will directly affect the quality of your parent-child relationship. You may demonstrate that you value your Aspie’s passion by:
- Suggesting ways your youngster may introduce family and friends to his special interest
- Partnering with your youngster to research facets of his special interest
- Participating in out-of-house opportunities you or your youngster arranges that involve his special interest
- Making time, wherever possible, to interact with your youngster (looking and listening) about his special interest
- Asking probing questions so that you may learn more
- Asking probing questions designed to get your youngster thinking and imagining possibilities related to his special interest
- Acknowledging that it is a communication
- Acknowledging its importance to your youngster
- Acknowledging it as a good thing
One father routinely dismissed his daughter's “ramblings” about the anatomy of tropical plants until he understood about Special Interests. He decided to ask her questions about her passion for these plants and – for the first time ever – they enjoyed a 15-minute conversation they otherwise never would have had. At the conclusion of the “plant anatomy lesson,” his daughter asked her dad for a kiss, and a new beginning occurred in their parent-child relationship. How’s that for bonding?!