On Doctor Who, Nascar, and special interests
I'm often asked when consulting at schools or working with private clients how to stop a child from thinking about their special interest. It often sounds something like, "How do I get him to stop thinking about trains and so he can pay attention to math?" Or, "How will she ever make friends if she always talks about rabbits?" The answer is, you can't. And you shouldn't. The logical and supportive way to work with special interests is to help kids identify folks who share their interests so they can build social connections, to make lessons interesting enough to hold a kid's attention, and to incorporate a child's special interest into our work whenever possible.
Because the truth of the matter is, we all have special interests. Neurotypical people just share information about them differently. Or more accurately, most of us hide our special interests. I know neurotypical people who are intense fans of particular television shows (GOT, The Walking Dead, Star Trek, and my personal favorite- Doctor Who) and have the t-shirts, mugs, and convention badges to prove it. I also know NTs (neurotypical people) who know a shocking amount of information about different yeasts and the process of making bread, have enough information about Korean beauty products committed to memory to start their own small business, or who follow professional sports and can site stats with a religious fervor (hello younger NasCar loving sibling!) And we all talk about these interests with people who share them. Just a few examples- colleagues huddled in the office kitchen on Monday morning to discuss the most recent episode of GOT, book clubs devoted to particular authors, Pinterest pages of antique wedding veil lace, and blogs about how to get the absolute most out of your morning dose of celery juice.
If we recognize that special interests are not particular to autistic people, but rather a common characteristic of people, we can engage with our friends, partners, students, children, or clients with far greater openness and empathy. And we'll all get a lot further in the process.
The logical and supportive way to work with special interests is to:
Help kids identify people who share their special interests so that they can build social connections.
Make your lessons interesting enough to hold a child’s attention.
Incorporate a child’s special interest into your work whenever possible.