Whist completing my first assignment for the distance learning course I am doing on ‘Understanding Autism,’ I was reminded of the term ‘special interests,’ some may refer to this as ‘obsessions,’ but I prefer special interests.
“Autistic people often have an intense and passionate level of focus on things of interest.”
From: Autism Wiki
One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was a child being told that they should stop talking about their special interest. As a person who had special interest themselves as a child, I do my best to engage with my children’s special interests.
“Parents are encouraged to support their child’s interests. While special interests may seem strange or random to outsiders, they are incredibly meaningful to the child. They provide a source of recreation, allow the child to develop competence in a certain area, provide a safe haven during times of stress which assists in avoiding meltdowns and sensory overloads, and improve self esteem.”
From: Wiki Special Interests
I wanted to sit down next to this child and say: “I’m listening, you tell me about it.”
When I recently attended ‘The Autism Show’ at the Birmgham NEC, I heard Lana Grant speak on the topic of ‘Girls with Autism,’ Lana founded the Facebook group called ‘Mums on the Spectrum,’ and has written her own book called ‘From Here to Maternity – Pregnancy and Motherhood on the Autism Spectrum.’ Lana spoke about the ‘special interests’ of Autistic girls and that these particular interests may be similar to those of a neurotypical girl, e.g. horses, dolls, princesses.
Some people refer to special interests as ‘obsessions,’ personally I prefer the term special interests, some may tend to look on special interests as a negative thing but I see them as something that makes people on the autistic spectrum happy and focused. Some people may even go on to use their knowledge and passion for their special interest as a career. For example, Alan Gardner, a garden designer who uses his passion for patterns and shapes and incorporates into his garden designs. He has a TV programme called ‘The Autistic Gardener.’
Lots of people collect things and have particular hobbies, however, my own description of a special interest is something that is difficult to stop thinking about and something that you like to talk about in great detail. Some people like to hear what you are describing and some people don’t! For me if I saw an item that I was collecting I would just have to have it and I couldn’t walk out of a shop until I had bought it, I will describe my collections in more detail later on. Sometimes, this can be difficult if you are spending a great deal of money on your special interest, such as my interest in craft materials for scrapbooking and card making, I have 100s of pounds worth of materials and I found I spend the majority of my money pre-children on these items that are now sat upstairs and hidden away in boxes as I just don’t get the time to sit and do crafting these days, with looking after 2 lively children!
I recently wrote down over 30 years of my own special interests and there has been many, some have lasted from my earliest memory from the age of 3 until the present day, I had an imaginary friend, a fairy called Tinkerbelle when I was 3 years old, I collected fairy statues and items until the present day, where I have restrained myself from buying anything else, but I have kept a few of my favourite figures on display at home and I have a hand-drawn framed Tinkerbelle from Disney Land Florida. A great deal of my special interests may have been shared by other young girls or teenage girls, but there has been more obscure ones, such as my love of smelling paper! I have always loved the smell of books and magazine, glossy magazines are my favourites, I also love the smell of libraries with all those books! I still do this today and my favourite thing to smell is the Next Directory Catalogue!! I love the smell of new things in general, especially new clothes before they have been worn, there was a time when I had a slight obsession (and it did turn into an obsession,) with buying new clothes from Primark, a cheaper range shop, but still not great for the bank balance! And in contrast these days I don’t buy clothes for myself, it is now for my 2 girls! Another special interest that spanned many years was collecting dolls, it started with Barbie and Sindy dolls, and I had 100s and then around the age of 12 I started to collect Porcelain dolls and these also went into the 100s, I had to clear some out and de-clutter once I had my children so I only have kept 4 of my favourites.
Here is my timeline of special interests spanning 30 years: (That I haven’t already discussed.)
- ‘Polly Pockets’ small collectable characters inside their cases for their homes. My mum kept these and Lou now plays with them when she visits my parent’s house!
- From age 8 – Dolphins, watched films, collected ornaments, books, learnt facts about them.
- Trolls! Ironically the original late 80s/early 90s Trolls figures – small, large, various themes and makes.
- When the film ‘Jurassic Park’ first came out in 1993, I was 11 and interested to find out about why the Dinosaurs became instinct, so I researched via enclopedias and leant many dinosaur names. This is where my love of all ‘facts’ began, which carries on to the present day. I have collected many Guinness Book of Records and use Wikipeadia and Google a lot to find out things. I also have to know if I’ve seen a character from a TV programme from somewhere else and I will have to find out or it would bug me!
- At around the age of 14 I started to collect stamps, I have no idea where this collection went, but I had a lot! I also became interested in collecting Fifa Football stickers for the sticker books and Match football magazines, even though I couldn’t play football, I was awful in defence! I had a season ticket for my dad’s favourite team and became interested. I still, to this day, do not understand the off-side rule!
- I can’t quite remember which was my first pin badge, but I collected 100s and placed them onto 1 particular bag, when visiting somewhere for the fist time, I couldn’t leave without buying a pin badge to represent the place I had visited.
- Whilst at University I discovered the book ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone,’ I read the book to a class of year 4 children and then went and bought the book myself. I couldn’t put any of the books down and saw all the films at the cinema when they came out and I have the whole DVD collection. Lou isn’t ready to watch the first film just yet, she watched some but isn’t keen on ‘Fluffy’ the 3-headed dog!
- I got into collecting precious stones after I read about ‘Crystal healing,’ I bought books and magazine subscriptions, my grandmother’s name is Ruby and this is why I named our first child also after a precious stone.
- I watched the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ films, read the books, designed costumes.
- I’ve loved musicals since around the age of 4/5 when my nan first introduced me to ‘The Sound of Music,’ although very quiet as a child, I liked to tape myself singing to songs from musicals such as Grease and Evita, but would be mortified if anyone else every played my tapes! I joined the school orchestra at 9 and choir at 14, also playing the flute. There is something that stirs my emotions when I hear the songs from musicals, when I first watched Les Miserables I was very emotionally overcome after hearing the songs for many years previously. My passion for music has carried on until the present day, I am calmed by classical music and I became a self employed music lesson leader for early years children in September 2016.
- My most recent special interests are, programmes such as ‘Game of Thrones,’ I have watched seasons 1 to 5 through beginning to end now 6 times, and season 6 though twice. Certain amazing episodes I have watched 3 times in a row! The music, the costumes, the fantasy – dragons, Direwolves, giants, Children of the Forest, the history – something else that I’ve always been interested in. I have read extracts from the Game of Thrones Wiki and if I see a character from GOT in another programme I will immediately recognise them. I was very close to calling my 2nd child Arya, after the GOT character ‘Arya Stark,’ one of my favourite characters, she was also almost called ‘Daenerys,’ after my other favourite character! Both these being very strong and fierce female characters. My youngest daughter is actually named after the actress that plays Arya Stark!
- Blogging! And writing! I have always loved writing, I found the physical formation of letters and joining up words very difficult in school, I had intervention lessons to help, It wasn’t until I went into teaching training that I actually learnt how to properly form some letters! I wrote my first book at 11 years old which is collecting dust somewhere! It was when I discovered word processing on computers that my love of writing grew even more, I could get what I wanted to write out without worrying too much about the spelling or formation of my handwriting. I used to write essays and my sixth form tutor would refer to them as ‘War and Peace,’ which I didn’t actually understanding the meaning of until a few years ago!!! I enjoy the feeling of putting pen to paper and also the sensory feedback of typing on a computer keyboard, the sound and the click! I started my blog in May 2016 and I hadn’t even heard of blogging before! I find that writing is my therapy to get things out of my head, from repeatedly swimming in my thoughts! Whether or not people read my blogs doesn’t bother me too much as it’s more like therapy for myself. So far I have written over 100 posts. I also love social media, I like to interact with people, especially like-minded, and I don’t have the anxiety of actually talking to someone face-to-face. Sometimes I can become obsessed with social media and I can also get jealous sometimes that my life isn’t as rosy as other people’s so there are times when I do have to give myself ‘time out’ from social media.
Enough about me! These are my children’s current interests:
Moo is currently 2, it’s so early to tell if she’ll develop particular special interests but I can already see that she is fascinated by shoes! She gets all of the shoes from the shoe rack every morning and tries them on, she also shows everyone we meet her shoes, and looks at the shoes that people are wearing when we are out and about. She can also tell me along the washing line which particular item of clothing belongs to which member of the family, “Daddy’s, Mummy’s….”
Moo is also into ‘Bing’ Bunny from CBeebies, she will now say ‘Bing’ loudly when she would like to watch it, and if I’m not quick enough to put it on she’ll shout “Bing, Bing!” Moo has also recently got into trains and tractors, she loves wheels. She enjoys our weekly train journeys and gets very excited when she can see the train pulling into the station!
Lou’s special interests are already more defined, I first noticed her love of water from 18 months old (even though to this day she despises having her hair washed!) She used to stand at taps and let the water run through her fingers and along her arms, she would like the feel and sensory feedback of pushing her fingers up against the taps, resulting in bathrooms flooding at her childcare setting! Lou is interested in and gets very absorbed in any sensory, or messy play experiences, textured paint, bubble mixture, even if its food and not a particular sensory activity, for example, she will tip out yogurt onto the table and move it around with her hands in circular motion and tip out jelly onto the floor and move it around with her feet! She enjoys feeling the texture of various materials with her feet.
Lou got swept away with the Frozen film phenomenon at the age of 3, books, singing the songs from the soundtrack, watching the film many times in a row, many days on end! She had the character dresses for ‘Anna’ and ‘Elsa,’ and even though her interests have moved on since, she still likes to put on her ‘Anna dress,’ and will say to Moo: “You can be Queen Elsa and I’ll be Princess Anna.” She would also only answer to her name as ‘Princess Anna’ at one point! Lou had to have absolutely EVERYTHING Frozen, dresses, T-shirts, underwear, bags, purse, pencil case, colouring books, dolls, you name it!
From the age of 4 onwards, Lou discovered ‘You Tube Kids,’ she started by watching videos of ‘Surprise Eggs,’ with someone unwrapping an egg with a mixture of toys inside, with just the crackling sound of the unwrapping, someone’s hands and a rather screechy voice! These days Lou prefers to watch videos from children performing at ‘America’s Got Talent,’ with her favourite being that of a girl singing ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry, which she watches many times in a row, every…single…day! I have noticed that Lou does pronounce certain words with an American accent. From the age of 5, and current special interests are the ‘Trolls’ movie and ‘Shopkins,’ Lou collects the small figures and enjoys lining them up and ordering them. Rather like I used to do with ‘Polly Pocket,’ figures, and indeed, the original 1980s/1990s Trolls! Lou has Trolls everything! Just like she did with the Frozen craze. She also amazes me with how she can name every ‘Shopkins’ character and there are 100s! Am I tempted to re-collect Trolls figures? Yes very, especially after I needed to de-clutter before moving house around 3 years ago and I gave my collection of 100s of Trolls figures to a charity shop and then I see them going for ridiculous amounts on eBay! Whoops! But I will live my special interests like this now through my children!
Lou has been fascinated by time, she could tell me at 3 and a half years old that it was “7 O’clock.” Lou likes the days of the week, months of the year, dates, and times, she has her own ‘wall of organisation,’ at home displays days, and daily visual timetables, as she likes to know exactly what is going on and when.
I love hearing about the ‘Special Interests,’ of others, I recently asked some fellow SEND Bloggers and people I know who gave me permission to share their special interests.
Someone’s Mum has a son, aged 4 who likes Queen, Billy Joel and the Beatles, she wrote this fantastic post where she also mentions her son’s love of Pianos. Read this here: the-things-they-love-and-the-things-we-do-2/
First Time Valley Mam has a son, Z, who loves collecting rubber ducks, the lovely ones with patterns on, he has 100s.
Rainbows are too beautiful has written a post about her son’s love of Formula 1, read this here: whose-birthday-is-it-today
Faithmummy told me how her son, Issac (8) loves lifts and hand dryers and also Bing Bunny. He takes Bing everywhere, and I know that my Moo would love his T-Shirt! She also told me how her daughter, Naomi (also 8,) enjoys Thomas the Tank Engine.
Our Autism Blog told me that her daughter enjoys soft toys and Pokémon.
Autism Mumma has a son, T who is into Football and a daughter, D, who likes Bradley Walsh and looking at pictures of My Little Pony and drawing.
Riko’s blog, PDA and more who’s eldest child has always been interested in Marine Biology.
A very good friend of mine has 2 lovely children, Jessica (9) absolutely loves Ladybirds and has since the age of 2 and a half, she also loves ‘Animal Jam’ which is an illustrated game that is partnered with National Geographic. Jessica’s brother, Harry (6) is into ‘information,’ and London, especially Big Ben.
I love reading and talking about special interests, everyone is different, we all have different interest and I like to hear about them 😊