There is a lot that can be said about an autistics special interests, but I want to discuss what it means when an autistic person decides to share their special interest with someone. It is something that is often treated negatively and is actually something pretty amazing.
An autistics special interest can easily be one of the most important things to them. In my case, I have many interests that are often deeply intertwined. I move from interest to interest, eventually circling back around. Along the way I am synthesizing everything I learn and connecting it all together. Our world is so full of fascinating things to discover and understand, and beyond that is a universe full of unanswered questions.
Admittedly, I obsess over my special interests. I am still able to live my life, interact with my family, do the things I need to do, and occasionally go out with friends. But, when I have time for my special interests, something I make time for, I am all in. Disturbing me while I’m engrossed in my interest can quickly cause me to become irritated. While I’m engaged in my special interest I am at peace. I have a flood of excitement with each new discovery or new understanding. I am better able to block out the noise and chaos of the world around me. It is like reaching zen.
My special interests also tend to help me develop a road map for how to navigate the world. Often it gives me more control over interactions so that I can achieve the outcome I want. It’s not only enjoyable to pursue my special interest, but helps me to find comfort when navigating the world. It eases my anxiety and fear to know the likely cause and effect of how events will play out or how people will react to certain stimuli.
For these many reasons, sharing my special interests with people is a big deal. First off, the fact that I am willing to interact with a person beyond scripted social convention means you mean something to me on some level. It also means, I think you can understand what I’m talking about. It is a sign that I like you and regard you as intelligent. As my significant other will note, the worst insult I can give a person is not talking to them. It means you’re not worth the energy and time to me and I likely don’t think you can engage me in meaningful conversation. Fortunately, I don’t assume this about people, I let people prove it.
There are times when I share insight about a special interest simply just to set the record straight. In these cases I simply see it as academic discourse designed for everyone involved to be better informed and closer to the truth. But, when I share it with people close to me it’s much different as I will talk about below.
When I share my special interest I understand that I may know more about it than the person I’m speaking to. Usually, I spent a lot more time studying the topic than they did. I’m not looking for them to be as knowledgeable, though that would be great, but instead I’m looking for the person to share the journey and the excitement that comes with it. I don’t expect them to be the navigator, I can do that, just walk the path with me. Perhaps, my special interest doesn’t cause others to be excited and I can understand that, but be excited that I am excited.
What myself and many other autistics get instead is, visible boredom, attempts to escape the conversation, irritation, anger, being told we can’t talk about it, etc… It’s often not an appreciation for us and how we feel about the person we are sharing a big part of who we are with. It’s a rejection of us and our feeling for those we share that part of us with. Worse yet, we are often expected to listen and engage in topics that we consider uninteresting, mundane, uncomfortable, shallow, etc… Neurotypical conversation very often lacks more than ankle deep substance.
That’s fine if it works for them, but it often isn’t something autistics enjoy. Yet we are held to a standard that neurotypicals don’t hold themselves to. In this case it means that those who claim to care about us and love us try to prevent or escape one of the ways we show love and/or friendship. It also means that the person misses out on understanding the autistic in their life. What is the worst that can happen if a neurotpyical listens to an autistic peson talk about their special interests? I think they answer is, you might learn something.