Kids on the Autism Spectrum and Their "Special Interests": A Good or Bad Trait?

Your Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) 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 the disorder 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 and HFA 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 youngster 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 youngster'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 and HFA kids include:
  • Architecture, including churches and cathedrals
  • Astronomy, planets, and constellations
  • Cartoon animation and comics
  • Dinosaurs
  • 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 child 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 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 youngster’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?!

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Julie Banta said...

I thoroughly enjoy listening to my son's daily "fact reports". Remembering just one or two of the hundreds he knows makes me look smarter than I really am!

Darcy said...

My son's area of interest is Dinosaurs (first) and marine life - whales, sharks, fish etc.(second). He is 9 years old, and has had a strong connection to these two topics since about age 2. Now that he is in 4th grade, it is becoming more difficult to find reading material that he is interested in, that he hasn't read already because he only wants to read factual books about dinosaurs and sharks. He has read his "dinopedias" cover to cover. He really does amaze people though- he can name every fish, dinosaur, shark just by looking at it. He can tell you what it eats, where it lives, what the predators are, what it's scientific name is, what period it lived in, etc. etc. I mean, he knows it all! He says he wants to be a paleontologist...I guess we will see. He gets so much joy from discussing it...I feel like I'm a dinosaur/shark/fish expert now too! lol

Anonymous said...

Hilary Ann Baird yes its a good thing we are obsessed with certain things bc its been wired to do that so we can invent something, this world if left to neurotypicals wouldnt have the inventions it does today bc most inventors have some typ of autism, autism is the new genius and im not interested in a cure

Anonymous said...

Hi an interesting article. My son's special interest is roads and road signs. He is 5. When we drive he observes everything. He is great at directions. He can tell me the direction if I am lost. He could spend ages drawing roads and road signs. His phycologist said his drawings are beyond his years as they have such depth. His ABA tutors was to discourage this interest. However he thought himself numbers from drawing road signs etc. I do believe we should encourage his interest. Just wandering if you have known other kids interested in roads and road signs? Thanks

Stacy said...

Yes, my 9 year old son has been drawing detailed maps since he was 5 1/2 years old. He loves making roads in the dirt as well. He creates his own towns with roads, rivers, landmarks, etc. Only downside is that the dirt inevitably gets 'messed' up... He is bothered by the lack of permanence of his creations.

Anonymous said...

Parents, watch your children for points of focus & allow/help them develop these at their own speed & in their own direction. Use these positively in all ares of education & socialization. It will not only eliminate a lot of stress, but it will help you see God's purpose. Our son says Aspergers gives him "blinders" to distractions. He focuses on a subject to the absolute elimination of anything else, concentrating solely on the work at hand. We educated him at home & belonged to a couple of home-education support groups, both of which had special needs children. He is now 29 years old, happily & successfully married, & a missionary in Romania to young people. He still makes amazing Lego creations. He is & always has been a truly wonderfully amazing extraordinary gift from God.
17 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Our child has no comprehension of what he is in this mode and by doing this if effects those around him. When we talk to him about his misbehaviour he apologises but the next day it is the same situation. hitting out, been rude and vulgar, fighting with his brother, shouting and this self injury/harm has only recently surfaced in the last few weeks. He also lies quite easily and acts out pretend crying and upset very easily which he can turn on instantly..

How can we get a message across to him that he fully understands and remembers before this gets out of control as he is aware, when we are talking to him that he has been bold but, as I mention earlier, the next day it is as if we never talked to him.

Unknown said...

My brother loves drawing road and road signs too. He wouldn't sleep in the car when we are on a long journey and he even remembers every single sign too.

Unknown said...

I honestly don't know what to do about this. I'm an Aspie and I need some advise I really don't know if I'd get.

My interests are basicly based around the making of most creative media, mostly games, comics, films and so on. There is a single problem though that always seems to come through in the house when it comes to these things. My perents dismis them. Any and all interests, likes, insperations or otherwise may not be discussed or shown.


Whenever any topic reguarding anything I, or my little sister likes, comes up they immediately criticise it or tell us to shut up about it and find something else to talk about. And its not like we talk about what we like non stop either! We aren't allowed to buy anything related to what we like or tell them about them(even though its with our own hard earned money). If we are watching Tv or playing games, it always feels as if we have to do it in secret. They'd pull these dispaproving faces I've come to know too well.

My perents told me that I was an aspie when I was 9 and to be honest, its pretty obvious that they never actually did any real research on the topic of Aspergers, if any. I wouldn't be surprised if the only knowledge they have on it is what the doctor told them. The thing that hurts the most about this is the fact that next year those topics will become part of what I'll be doing (hopefully) for the rest of my life. Will I never be able to tell them about my work? Even when making films and games is an integral part of my life.

I don't understand this and worse, I don't know how to deal with it. I love my family and I love my perents, but I hate when a happy conversation turns into a stake through my heart in a split second.

What should I do?

Atlas said...

Please help.

I really don't know what to do about this. I'm an Aspie and I need some advice I don't know if I'd get.

My primary interests are basically all related to creative digital media. Games, films, comics, ect. and mostly the making the making of them. I love learning new things. Especially in those fields and I love analyzing them. The problem is I'm not allowed to express this.

At all.

Whenever these topics come up my perents always take to criticising them or bringing me down about them. As if I'm not allowed to like anything. No talking about it. Not even a reference. No making anything related it. No watching anything about it. None of this unless its alone, hidden in your room and then you end up feeling like you're doing something terribly wrong like murder or stealing. They don't allow us (I have a slightly younger sister) show any kind of interest in anything they don't have interest in themselves. If they do, they still guilt trip us about it and we're still not allowed to show that we like it. I'd understand if its monstrous mindless horror where people die the whole time with all kinds of explicit scenes and all that, but we are talking about stuff like Night rider (yes the original), The mentalist, youtube videos on writing, music game design and devolopment and film documentries. Just a few examples. They let us watch stuff like deadpool, dread, IT and Aliens vs Predators, but they have a problem against Mob Psycho (literally a japanese cartoon about a silghtly socially oblivious kid with superpowers who also happens to never, ever actualy fight. The worst scene in that cartoon is litteraly a temper tantrum.)

My perents told me that I had Asperger's syndrom when I was 9. Just dropped it out of the blue, as if it wasn't a big deal. It was for me. It helped me explain a lot about why I'm the way I am and why I can't interact with people the way I wish I could. It's pretty obvious my perents never actually did their research on Asperger's, if any. They probably just know what little the doctor told them.

The thing that hurts me the most about this is the fact that next year these interests will become a key part in my life. I'll be majoring in them and I keep wondering: Will I ever be able to tell them about my day? About the new game I'm developing or about the problem we faced or the idea I got?

I love my family and I love my perents, but I hate feeling like I've been stabbed through the heart every time I even think of something that makes me happy.

What should I do? I really wish there was a book, or a video that could tell me the answers, but there isn't so you're my best bet.

Molly said...

Hi Atlas! Have you tried telling your parents this in a respectful way of course? It sounds like they need educated. You could maybe even show them this article. If you still don’t get support from them, don’t give up. Hopefully you can find someone at school to talk to like a guidance counselor or someone at a church. Older people are sometimes good listeners. If all else fails, God is a great listener. He is always there for you. And the best way for you to hear Him is to read His words. The Bible is his gift to us for many of life’s hard problems like yours. I will be praying for you. God bless you!

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