I don’t know if this list is going to be relatable for everyone. I haven’t met enough autistic people to know if they have some special interests that were more important to them than others. While the current special interests are usually the ones in the front of my mind, I acknowledge that there are some that shaped who I am.
The Roman Empire: This is kind of an odd special interest, but it’s even more odd when you’re 6. This is one of the earliest special interests I can remember, and it’s one of the most important. I dropped out of school in the first grade, and was home schooled through the rest of elementary school. Being in a classroom setting wasn’t working for me, and after a few months, I declared that I was done, I was never going to school again. The main reason I gave (besides that I was bored and that the teacher was stupid), was that none of the kids wanted to talk about what I wanted to talk about. Which makes sense now, they were 6, they wanted to talk about care bears and power rangers. The penal code of the Roman court wasn’t really on their radar. This SpIn is so important to me because if I hadn’t had it, things might have been different. I might have decided to stay in school and that would have changed everything.
The Holocaust: What 4th grader reads obsessively about the Holocaust? *points at self* this one. I was a pretty secluded kid. Home-schooled, not many friends. My world consisted of my books and my piano and my cats. The Holocaust blew my mind. I gave myself stomach aches trying to figure out how so many people, so many countries, so many governments could let something like that happen. It temporarily broke my empathy button. I had to disconnect from everything in order to keep reading. And when I realized that that exact tactic was how many Nazis were able to commit so many atrocities, I broke. But I kept reading. I still read. I can’t help myself. Even though it makes me sick, even though it gives me nightmares, trying to reconcile what I know about humanity with what happens during holocausts, or massacres, or exterminations is something I can’t turn my back on.
Star Wars: This one is more pleasant, I promise you, in fact, it might even border on heartwarming. My dad is a huge nerd, and by nature, nurture, or some combination of the two, so am I. He introduced me to Star Wars very young, and made sure that I not only appreciated the visual effects and the lightsaber battles, but the complexity of the story as well. We talked about what makes a Hero, and how people aren’t all good or all bad. He showed me the Expanded Universe novels (which have recently been un-canonized, which I have major issues with, but that’s another story.) and didn’t care when I stole his books before he got to read them. He wasn’t always the most present parent, but this was what we bonded over, and I’m so thankful that George Lucas gave me a platform for connecting with him.
Bullet Journals: Do you know what a Bullet Journal is? I didn’t until recently, and when I got interested and went looking for information, it mostly seemed like hyper organized people who had 5 hours a day to make straight lines. Now, as someone who has a decent amount of Executive Dysfunction, this was not something that seemed doable, much less enjoyable. But then I saw all the rulers and the stickers and the markers and I decided to try anyway. And it turns out, that this thing I’ve made that partially resembles a bullet journal is really helpful. It acts as a visual schedule that I can doodle on! I can keep track of my moods and my self-care, and it helps me do activities at home instead of just interneting all day. All in all this special interest has made me more independent, which is why it’s so important. And hey, I learned that I’m great at hand lettering fonts, who knew?
Autism: I think this is a pretty common one, especially for people like me who were diagnosed (or self-diagnosed) later in life. It’s like you finally had something that explained everything in your life, and you had to learn more, and more and more. And I think some of that is processing everything that’s going on in your life. I mean, I write three times a week about autism, so clearly I’m still processing it, and also, I’m still fascinated by it. Through all my research I’ve found a community that I think will shape my future. I hope, anyway.
Sondheim the Birthday Concert: This is very specific. It fills a category of special interest that nothing else has ever done. Stephen Sondheim is a composer, responsible for shows like West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods. Every few years, the Broadway community throws him a giant birthday filled with performances from his body of work. I caught a rerun on PBS one day, and this 2 hour long special became my comfort show. I watch it when I’m happy, or upset, or confused. I go months watching it every day. I know the songs and the dancing and the jokes all by heart, and I never get tired of it. I don’t know why it affects me the way it does. But in a world where I often have trouble feeling safe, this PBS special is my comfort space.
Knitting: This one is going to be short and sweet. I learned how to knit in high school, after my parents got frustrated that I had taken the TV remote apart. Again. (clearly teenage me needed a Tangle). Knitting was my first real stim toy. It was something I specifically went to when I needed to use my hands for something, instead of chewing my fingers or taking apart remotes. I also discovered that can be a great tactile stim! Alpaca and silk, in particular are so so so soft! And fiber festivals are a great way to touch soft yarn, soft animals, and watch really cool demonstrations, like sheep herding dogs, and spinning wheels! (Have you ever seen a spinning wheel at work? It’s entrancing.)
Musicals: Musical have been a constant in my life. Both my parents were fans, and I’ve had a continuous special interest in musicals for as long as I can remember. Sure the specific musical changes, Annie and Oliver when I was a kid, Les Miserables and Rent as a teenager, and as an adult, Wicked, Hamilton, and Into the Woods. Needless to say, there’s always a musical soundtrack playing in our car. Besides the fact that musicals have been a special interest constant, they’ve also contributed to my understanding of other people. A lot of media types, TV and Movies especially, rely really highly on nonverbal communication. Not that I don’t enjoy them, but sometimes I get a little lost. But in musicals, if someone is happy, they sing about it! And if their heart is breaking, they sing about it! They describe every thought and every feeling out loud, and this makes the world and the characters more relatable. In fact, between the orchestral score and the relating, it’s rare than I make it through a musical without crying.
This list in particular is something I’d be interested in hearing thoughts about. Do people who aren’t me having special special interests? I’m really just curious.