First of all, apologies for previously having hit ‘Publish’ before actually adding any text. I am currently making blog posts on my phone, so put it down to small keys, stubby fingers and a touch screen that is a little too responsive at times.
This is a conversation I had with someone over Instagram. As you can see, I got quite enthusiastic about describing the Discworld books Thief of Time and Night Watch. I could definitely have gone on a lot longer than I did, and in the past I have done so when talking about things I am passionate about – although I was shamed out of it quite early on and so now I am wary of over-explaining.
‘Special interests’ are one of the hallmarks of Asperger’s-type autism. During the assessment which led to my diagnosis, I regaled the assessor with information about the development of Japanese martial arts, particularly the style now called ninjutsu, and also talked at length about Discworld, including citing some of my favourite quotes. Not surprisingly, I scored highly in the ‘narrow and circumscribed interests’ section (in all the sections, come to that). This was one of the few times in recent memory that I have felt comfortable really letting go in this way, probably because I was supposed to show how autistic I was for once rather than trying to pass for a Codie, making shallow chit-chat (shit-chat?) about the weather and whatever the hell else they fill up silences with.
There is, I understand, some disagreement within the autistic community about the term ‘special interests’. Some like it, and others think it’s infantilizing, patronising, or that it pathologises what would simply be called ‘interests’ for neurotypicals. Personally, I like the phrase and use it for myself, because – well, my interests are special, or at least the intensity of them is.
Discworld is my main one. I was introduced to the series at age sixteen (back in the Bronze Age, lol) and I have been an avid fan ever since. I will make another post soon, dedicated to my love of the pancake-shaped planet that rides through space on the back of a giant turtle and four giant elephants, and how it has shaped my life and my world view. If I do it here, I will forget that I meant to talk about special interests as a general subject, and this whole post will get out of control.
So, anyway – Discworld is my number one thing in the world. I am also fascinated with the Black Death, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, psychopathology, cult recruiting techniques, urban legends (particularly the one about the fictional video game Polybius), the Goth subculture, vitamins, properties of plants, supernatural phenomena (although I can scare myself reading about these if I’m not careful), nomadic lifestyles…and a variety of subjects that flit in and out of my field of awareness. My current Wikipedia tabs for later reading include the pages on pond snails, the High Middle Ages and death rock, amongst others. And I am developing a love of the Pokémon franchise, too, thanks to my son, who is all about them ‘mons.
So, as you can see, it’s not always mathematics and machinery. An autistic person’s special interests can go in any direction, and those of us who are preoccupied with socially acceptable and/or non-stereotypical things may well fly under the radar of otherwise fairly savvy teachers, doctors and caregivers.
It’s also not unusual for our pet topics to change, sometimes quite rapidly, so that our autism can look like ADHD (a previous diagnosis of mine). I’ve found that if something is a past special interest that I then moved on from, it’s very difficult to make myself get back into it at a later date. I’m either utterly absorbed or I don’t give a shit. There’s no in-between.
I would like to see a world where, instead of asking someone new what they do for a living, we ask them what they’re interested in. In my opinion, that tells you far more about them and would make for much more engaging conversations for everybody.