Special Interests Week

Happy Tax Day!

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🤓 Today’s Asperger Video

🤔 3 Takeaways

  • My stims include rocking, swaying, and pinching skin; under extreme stress, I also pace, bounce, and wrestle my hands; and if you have an autistic person in your life, it might be good to understand which stims comfort them, so you can respect the nonverbal behaviors they’re using to communicate;
  • I’m hypersensitive to light (fluorescent flicker causes migraines; a car’s brights can blind me), sound (people’s voices), textures (picky eater 😐), and sudden movements up and down (fast elevators, and one time, a hot air balloon tried to kill me), just to name a few; and for me, when I’m experiencing sensitivity, it’s similar to caustic pain;
  • I agree you shouldn’t refer to an autistic person as “living in their own world,” as this is othering, rather than neurodiverse thinking; and I do zone out, as well as hyper fixate (they feel like the same process, just one is internal, and the other external), but I’ve learned to pull myself out of it by attempting to engage others with the thing I’m focusing on…

I inform my college students about my tendency to zone or focus, as part of that first day of reviewing the syllabus; it’s included in my introduction, when I tell them I’m on the autism spectrum, as part of my monologue about welcoming and expecting diversity in our classroom, so all neurotypes, genders, races, generations, orientations, and affiliations can contribute their awesome ideas to our safe and intelligent conversations without backlash. And they’re always madly cool with it.

So when I’m lecturing, and I suddenly spin around and say, “An interrobang! Do you know what an interrobang is,” and I fixate on my favorite punctuation for ten minutes—with stories about working in the video game industry, then as a copyeditor for Google Ads, and how that adds to my version of the interrobang’s etymology—they not only understand my special interest in vocabulary and punctuation marks is part of who I am, but they’re inspired by my enthusiasm, by how even the leader of this ship has oddities that highlight the benefits of societal inclusion.

🎉 Special Interests Week

I’m dedicating this week exclusively to special interests.

I consider special interests the underrated superpowers of many autistic people; so as this blog blooms—and we move away from my background, definitions, and surface thoughts about the autism spectrum, towards some exciting, deep-diving explorations into design, re-frames, and cases for neurodiversity—I’ll be zooming in more on special interests and other unique autistic traits.

In light of this, as I spend Autism Awareness Month setting the foundation for this blog, I figured I best spend a fair amount of time on this subject. But before we get into it, I thought I ought to front load you with some stuff:

  1. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, so anything I write about on this blog may be decidedly different for you and/or the autistic person(s) in your life;
  2. When I say “special interests,” I’m referring to an autistic-specific, research-backed behavior of intense interest—much more focused than what a neurotypical, or NT experiences—although, of course, NTs are capable of passionate enthusiasm; and when those passions overlap with an autistic person’s special interests, that can be a beautiful experience: one of those neat moments when it’s possible to be different yet the same.

I’ll turn to Ask an Autistic to help unpack what a special interest looks like…

👫 What’s a Special Interest?

Autistic people will often collect information related to their special interest and organize it in lists or graphs or charts or collections (@0:35).

Amythest is such a phenomenal speaker and teacher. She discusses all the variations you can see in special interests across the autism spectrum, touching on these qualities as benefits, not disorders. In my case, special interests:

  • remain all my life; I once liked dolphins, and I still (secretly) love dolphins;
  • split between primary, secondary, and tertiary interests (chart below); &
  • act as both a superpower and Kryptonite; if my special interests are activated, I’m far more attentive and collected, but if the special interest is “suppressed or stamped out,” as Amythest describes it, then it can lead to feelings of alienation, isolation, and depression.

I watched a SPED teacher suppressing the special interests of an autistic young woman in high school, and it never settled with me. It was like watching destructive, self-esteem-debilitating behavior masked as good will.

You could frame the concept of special interests in a positive or neutral way, such as autistic people might have very focused areas of special interests and they like to indulge in them and share these interests with others. But instead, researchers tend to pathologize special interests, even though its not something negative, harmful, or bad (@3:35).

Special Interests as Strengths

Autism becomes empowering when you’re able to let go, to unplug from many (but not all) of the social expectations you’ve been emulating; there are laws, ethics, and kindnesses still online, but you’re no longer worried about suppressing, avoiding, or pretending;

Autism becomes empowering when you’re no longer emotionally invested in making everyone happy, stilling every stim, ignoring overstimuli, shrugging the need to return to the special interests that make the world feel safe.

When you unplug from the social expectation to “keep it cool” and “practice moderation” in your interests and research—and you choose instead to become absolutely in love with something, weirdly or strangely or eccentrically or Einsteinistically in love, so much that the special interest becomes as part of you as oxygen, water, and eating—

It’s like the special interest is no less than a limb of you, a creation, a sense of self.

Special Interests as Creativity

As a writer, my autistic special interests help me get up to my neck in a topic for a novel, a research essay, a career. They are my muse. They are my superpower. And lately, I’ve been jazzed about futurist-based things, so I’m writing science fiction novellas.

My favorite science fiction author is Ursula Le Guin. I dream of acquiring The Hainish Novels and Stories by the Library of America, like a geeky Holy Grail:

Autistic people are often drawn to logical and technological special interests—video games, graphic design, drones, hacking—which are vital in the 21st century, if not an explanation for the 21st century. 🤓

Many say autistic people created Silicon Valley, after all.

One of my related tech-based special interests (beyond science fiction) is artificial intelligence, and tomorrow—as I explore the first of five of my special interests—I’ll tell you why robots are cool how this special interest shapes my writing.


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