Autism 101- Specialist Interests

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to expand on the topic of specialist interests (SI’s).

SI’s are one of the defining features of Asperger’s syndrome in particular. Hans Asperger originally described us as ‘little professors‘ due to our ability to talk about our interests in great detail- often droning on in lengthy lectures, completely oblivious to our bored audience….

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….so I’ll try my best not to bore you today πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

As discussed in the previous post, specialist interests are subjects which autists are intensely preoccupied with. These are generally associated with higher functioning forms of autism, but have also been noted in lower forms. Interests can be random items (e.g toilet brushes and deep fat fryers- I have genuinely come across these examples in a research paper!), subjects that are unusual to focus so intently on (dinosaurs, trains, Star Trek etc.) and finally topics that overlap with the hobbies of normally developing peers (horses, music, gaming etc.).

Women in particular tend to have SI’s akin to those of their peers, which can make it harder to diagnose them.

This would have been my experience of SI’s. My most intense interest growing up was that of Harry Potter. It would have been seen as perfectly normal to be ‘potty about Potter’ as a teenage girl during the noughties, but few would have shared my intensity.

This intensity is the major difference between normal ‘fandom’ and SI.

Unlike fandom, your interest can entirely consume you. It’s like an addiction- you are hooked on your interest. It’s not a case of want, but you physically HAVE to get your fix. If you don’t get it, your brain feels like it’s going to explode.

If I didn’t get to see the latest Harry Potter film at the first possible showing, it literally felt like the end of the world. I once made a phone call to my mother after seeing gameplay footage for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to say that I needed the game NOW (why Aoife!)…even though I knew it was under the tree for Christmas!

But I just HAD to have it in that moment!

Oh but when I got that game- what a feeling!! Even better when I got to experience TWO different versions of the game on both PC and PS2!!!

Talk about shooting up on dopamine! πŸ˜€

It’s a little difficult to explain the feeling in words. It’s not just a sense of happiness or excitement, it’s like the atomic bomb version of Beatlemania has gone off in my head- if that makes sense?

Let me try to explain the feeling with gifs, I think these sum it up better:

 

 

 

If you combine all of these at once- that’s what it’s like in my brain.

Kind of a miracle that it hasn’t full on exploded yet πŸ˜›

Your interest is more than just obsession- it’s compulsion. Every time that I saw a still from the Harry Potter films in a newspaper or magazine, I was compelled to cut them out to add to my collection. It didn’t matter that I had the same picture six times already, I had to have it! If I didn’t get it, I would genuinely torture myself about that one lost picture, or missed TV special for years afterwards! Even now the residual memory of those missed moments still bother me! πŸ˜›

As with all addictions however, you can takeΒ things a little too far to get your hit…

One of the most memorable examples of this was my dedication to reading the latest Harry Potter books. Determined to be the first to finish the book, I would read in the car! This doesn’t sound too extreme at first….however, I can get motion sick from looking down while travelling in the car… but I didn’t care!

I read until I threw up and then read some more!!

In addition to this, I was also caught sneaking into my mothers room in the dead of night to nab the Half Blood Prince from her after the midnight opening! πŸ˜› Luckily, we had the sense to buy two copies for the Deathly Hallows midnight release πŸ˜‰

Such are the lengths we are willing to go to for our specialist interests. You become so intensely focused that you are often blinded as to the lows to which you sink…

penny-needs-help-for-her-computer-addiction-on-the-big-bang-theory

In addition to subjects, people can often become SI’s- especially in women. I’ve definitely been guilty of this at times.

You connect with a person, and like other areas of interest, you want to know everything about them- even the things that are socially unacceptable to ask! When you spend time with that person, it’s never enough. If you see them hanging out with other friends on social media, you feel a pang of regret/jealousy that you weren’t there- as genuinely irrational as you know your feelings to be. I suppose it’s like any other interest, every missed moment with your friend feels like a missed concert for your favorite band- a one off event that can never be recaptured.

You know you’re obsessing and that you shouldn’t feel like this, but you just can’t seem to stop yourself.

mean-girls-obsessed-gif.gif

Even worse when you inadvertently cling on so tightly that you end up smothering your SI…We don’t mean to act like crazy people, but sometimes it happens.

Word of advice to human SI’s: Just wait it out. We’ll move on to our next interest before long. Just try to understand and love your friend as they are πŸ™‚

So why are we so inclined towards these interests?

Scientists are of the opinion that SI’s reflect some of the heightened abilities unique to autism such as systemizing-Β the drive to explore, analyze or construct a system. SI’s are also thought to correlate to the severity of social impairment in individuals with autism, serving a role in reducing stress and anxiety.

For me personally, I find that SI’s provide a source of comfort. Life can be pretty overwhelming for people with autism, and sometimes we need to escape. In my own life I have found that some of my more intense interests were born of the flames of turbulent times.

When I was 11, we sold my childhood home and I was completely knocked out of sync. This simple change combined with the joyous trials of puberty had a devastating effect on me. My world was, to my mind, spinning out of control, and I wasn’t coping very well. Around the same time, the Hogwarts Express was just leaving the station, and I jumped on board to escape. The books, the films and the games transported me to another world away from all of my problems. Harry Potter gave me a sense of control, an oar to navigate the rapids of life- which is kind of ironic given the intense hold that SI’s can have over us! πŸ˜›

For any parents out there reading this, don’t worry too much about our SI’s. This is perfectly normal behavior! πŸ™‚ And if you’re sick of hearing about your child’s subject- they’ll move on eventually πŸ˜‰

Top Tip-Β Experts in the area recommend using Β SI’s to encourage your child in other areas they may struggle with. I really struggled to study for my exams when I was a teenager, so my mother encouraged me through an SI- gaming. For every hour of study I managed, I was awarded with an equal amount of gaming time. Before long, I was studying without any incentive at all!! πŸ™‚

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Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

 

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