Dinotopia: On Special Interests

Special interests, or “obsessions” as laymen like to call them, are definitely one of the fun parts of having autism.  There is no greater feeling than immersing yourself in the thing you love more than anything.  Special interests make conversations exciting, they make school projects and papers enjoyable, and if you’re lucky, they can turn into college majors and careers.  Nothing excites me more than knowing I’m going to love my job more than anything for the majority of the rest of my life, because my brain can focus so intensely and so passionately on one specific thing for years at a time.  Even when the interest wanes, the love is never lost.

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This is a parasaurolophus, a hadrosaur, or “duck billed” dinosaur.  Due to a long-standing childhood affection for the Land Before Time series, he is my favourite dinosaur.  I can go on for ages about him and his “terrible lizard” brethren; my knowledge of these creatures spans pages, hours.  I know because I’ve engaged my long-suffering family in one-sided conversations about them that turned quickly into long-winded lectures.  High functioning as I am, I ought to know better than to drone on for ages about things no one else is interested in, so why do I?  Because I can’t help myself.  Talking about the things that interest me on this level is a compulsion, an internal need that needs fulfilling.  I don’t bore people because I want to, I do it because I need to; there is so much fascinating knowledge that needs to be spread, so many minute details that need sharing.  It’s as if my brain, once turned on, broke its switch and now cannot be turned off; the only way to stop it is to derail it and cause a potential collision.

I will admit that I’ve often considered what it would be like not to have such intense and passionate interests, and have come to the conclusion that I would probably develop some form of depression if I didn’t.  The idea of drifting vaguely from minor interest to minor interest, with nothing capturing my attention or excitement for more than a few days or months at most, is very disheartening.  I live for my interests; my life literally revolves around them.  They are the first thing I think about when I wake, and the last thing I think about before bed.  I strategise ways of postponing my homework so that I can spend more time studying, researching, collecting and filing away facts in the information storehouse that is my brain.  Every opportunity I get, I find ways of incorporating them into class projects or discussions.  I skip my own lessons at university so I can go and teach my interests to people at other schools.  Without my obsessions, my life would lack focus, drive, meaning.  I’d be a shell of a person, drifting, without any idea of her true purpose in life.

So, the next time you get cornered by an aspie rattling on about trains, or dinosaurs, or the French Revolution, or dishwashers, smile patiently and wait it out; he’ll be glad to have someone take a real interest in his information, and you will undoubtedly learn some very useful things in the process.

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