Being autistic, people often mention the term ‘special interest’ to me when talking about my passions as if they’re trying to show me they can speak on my level, or because they’re genuinely trying to understand. Some autistic are okay with using that term, but I prefer not to talk about it that way. All people get inspired and interested by things, but neurodivergent people seem to do it in a different way to the majority so our interests are called ‘special’, which I personally find quite patronising (describing them as ‘restricted and repetitive’ is even more insulting). I want to talk about how my brain processes and gets excited about different things, and why it isn’t a sign of disorder or a pathology.
I have a lot of passions and I can get very invested in things, however I can switch tracks quickly from one interest to another depending on what’s going on in my life. For example, this summer has been my first summer at home since I was admitted to hospital in 2019 and it has been great because I’ve had so much time to get fascinated by things and find new interests. I’ve had many intense flashes of inspiration in the past few months, from the nervous system to the counties and districts of the UK. I even draw a map of the UK labelled with counties and districts/unitary authorities, and although that interest has came and gone, I’ve still got this giant map up on my bedroom wall because I put too much effort into it to throw it away.
I try to keep all my passions up, but I often end up accumulating too many so I have learnt to prioritise. For instance, I have too much on my plate right now to be diving into the complex mythology of J.R.R. Tolkein’s universe, but other issues such as our climate emergency and the treatment of autistic people, are so relevant today and close to my heart that they stick with me.
The way I can spend so long diving deep down into my interests all comes down to the way I process information. I am a slower processor than most, meaning that where some people have a simpler straight road that leads them to their destination, I take a more scenic route down many other streets and wormholes before I reach the same point.
Traditionally, slower processing has been framed as a disadvantage or deficit, however I strongly oppose that view. There are many advantages to my way of processing: for example, the time I spend exploring all avenues of a concept means that I can uncover insights that a more superficial style of processing wouldn’t have come across. There is no right or wrong way of processing and both routes are equally important for different situations.
It shouldn’t matter whether a person has lots of rapidly changing interests, several strong passions or one intense fascination, and it doesn’t matter what these are. No one should be made to feel like the things they enjoy are weird or strange. I love the way I work, how I can spend hours listening to the sounds of nature in woods, and how I can listen to/play a piece of music over and over again without getting bored, each time uncovering intricate details I hadn’t first noticed. My interests are a part of me, just as they are an integral part of so many others, and that should be accepted and encouraged as part of the neurodiversity of humans instead of a symptom of abnormality. ~ Josie
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