Tuesday 17 April 2018

Autism Acceptance Month 2018 Day 17: P is for Passionate Interests

BSL: excited + interest/focus (bottom left)

P is for Passionate Interests

Clinically referred to as "special interests" or "obsessions", autistics are increasingly trying to change the language around this term, because it implies that there is something wrong with the interest, or at least the level of intensity of it, especially if it is considered not age- or gender-appropriate. It is true that the intensity level tends to be much higher for autistics than NTs, but that does not necessarily mean it is unhealthy.

Over the years I have had the following passionate interests (some past, some ongoing); here is the non-exhaustive list in alphabetical order:
  • The Amish and other Anabaptist denominations
  • Autism
  • Canals
  • Cats
  • Cults and fundamentalist Christianity (research for a novel I'm working on)
  • D&D (not 4th edition, though!) 
  • ER (TV programme)
  • Football (soccer for you non-Brits!) statistics
  • Harry Potter
  • HazChem Code (age 6)
  • NCIS (TV programme)
  • Politics
  • Social justice
  • Tolkien's writing
I'm fairly sure I've had many other short-term passionate interests, but most of the ones listed above have stuck with me long-term.

Sometimes a passionate interest is dangerous (eg. setting fire to things) and on these occasions some intervention is required, to divert it to something safe. But on the whole, interests should not be prevented, restricted or used as a means of power over the autistic person as they so often are. If you wouldn't do it to a neurotypical person, why would it be OK to do it to an autistic?

[Answer: it wouldn't be.]

And forget all the stuff about "age-appropriate interest" or "gender-appropriate interest". Who gets to decide that?! So what if someone is 56 and passionate about My Little Pony? So what if someone is 5 and can recite the periodic table including chemical weights and so on? What society deems age- or gender-appropriate is completely arbitrary and dictated by the people with the social power, and they tend to be the "cool" crowd, which is not something many of us autistics have been a part of. And it frequently shifts anyway, so what's "cool" one week swiftly becomes relegated to the fad bin and anyone still going along with it is seen as off-the-pace and uncool.

Screw them! Embrace and celebrate that passionate interest! Nurture your, your family member, friend or partner's special interest! It could lead down all kinds of avenues in future, and even if it doesn't, so what? If something holds a person's interest, if it's something they're passionate about, if it gives them joy and pleasure, cool! I'm all for that. The world needs more passion and love. And it would be incredibly boring if everyone was into the same things. I love seeing the diversity of my neurosiblings' interests, I love it when they infodump (I love learning new stuff about pretty much anything), I love sharing their excitement and passion, I love seeing where their interests and passions take them. I wouldn't have it any other way.

There is something amazing about finding something you have a passion for and it's an incredible feeling. I get an overwhelming sense of pleasure, happiness and energy from it. It makes me more able to engage with the outside world, it gives me a means of relating to things in a way I may not otherwise be able to (as my husband and a number of close friends will tell you, I will link absolutely everything possible to Harry Potter!), I've made some amazing friends through some of my interests, had some fantastic experiences and these interests have done wonders for my mental health, particularly in the dark days (see in particular my post from last year, Harry Potter, autism and me), and have made life so much better.

Find something you love and are passionate about, and enjoy it. Don't pay attention to people who try to shame you by insisting that it's not "cool", or "age-appropriate" or "gender-appropriate" - they're such arbitrary markers anyway, changing from culture to culture, week to week, clinician to clinician, and so on. Everyone is different and unique, everyone has their interests, and people should respect and accept that.

My husband isn't particularly into Harry Potter, yet he accepts that it's one of my long-term passionate interests and is a huge part of my life, and he's watched all the films with me, done the Warner Bros studio tour twice and come with me to see Cursed Child (which he really enjoyed, not least because his background is theatre and performance), and we regularly have long, in-depth discussions about many aspects of it. He does roll his eyes a bit when football comes up because he really isn't into that (which I respect so I try not to bore him with it, and will only put a televised match on if it's a Burnley (my team) game, and catch up with Match of the Day and so on when he isn't in)! And my husband has his own interests, some of which I'm really not into but others of which have intrigued me and so I've expanded my own knowledge base and learned about his interests.

Celebrate the interest and the passion, no matter how obscure! They're part of what makes someone who they are.

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