Autism And Special Interests

August 9, 2022

Special interests

I love canals and narrowboats and anything to do with them. I remember exactly the first time I saw a narrowboat which was on a school trip to the Black Country Museum when I was about 11. I walked over the bridge looked up and there it was, a fabulous Fellows Morton and Clayton historic Narrowboat (it’s still there if you ever want to go and have a look).

I had a ladybird book about narrowboats which I read over and over looking at the coloured boats with their roses and castles and buckby cans and dippers.

I loved that the canal and narrow boating had a language of its own so I had words to learn the meaning of as well as to match with the things I came across on the canal.

Buying my first boat and living on it for 3 years though university was the culmination of a dream come true. It was perfect because not only was it my special interest and, hey, to be *living* in your special interest really couldn’t make life any better for me. It also was quiet and peaceful at the marina and I could retreat and have time being away from people. It really was perfect and to be honest I’ve only ever lived in one other place that’s made me feel anywhere near the same.

But university courses come to an end just as much as relationships do and sadly that relationship did end and I left the boat. It was around 15 years later that I bought my second boat and once again my love affair with canals, narrowboats, the culture, language and history was reignited.

For me my special interest is comforting. It’s a place to go to get away from it all and it’s facts and delicious snippets of information that I can share with my family as we travel along on our boat.

They are very good to me in that they listen, see my enthusiasm and, dare I say it, feel my happiness.

My son has a list of special interests and before I understood that I had them and really understood why they are helpful for me I do admit to wanting him to try other things and not get so absorbed with what he was doing.

We’ve had ballet, gymnastics, cars (they come and go still), 1980’s Japanese cars (particularly MX5’s and then only MX5’s Mk1’s), trainers, make-up just to name a few.

Since my assessment and since his we now understand each other’s need for our interests, as do the rest of the family.

I think being an expert in certain niche areas is a wonderful thing. My son and I are great at researching, we look at the fine details, we delight in learning facts and remembering them (and telling anyone else who wants to listen). We can collate information, we’re analytical and can skim read quickly to search for what we need and as the psychologist said to my son during his assessment, ‘These are valuable skills that you already have and something to celebrate.’

A special interest can absolutely be something to celebrate.

I don’t think children with special interests should be made to try other things in a neurotypical way. Our brains aren’t neurotypical so to dismiss the value that a special interest has and insist that autistic children should put away the cars that they like to line up or be made to play with a range of toys instead of the few that they chose is ableist.

Special interests bring calm and predictability in a scary world.

They can develop amazing skills we can transfer, when and if we are ready, to other areas of life.

They can bring us joy.

I love learning about narrowboats – I learned a new working boatman’s phrase just today during my reading: ‘The bottom is too close to the top’ meaning that the canal is too shallow.

I’ll file that along with the other delicious words and phrases I know.

(Photo is of a wonderful 1937 Harland and Wolff historic narrowboat. I like nothing more than to take photos of all of the working boats I see and then using the historic narrowboat database find out all about them)

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