One of the key aspects of being autistic is holding a fascination for someone or something for most of or your entire life. Neurotypicals call it “obsessions”. We call them “special interests”.
Autistic people have many and sometimes, they come in these categories:
- Early ones that depart.
- Some that come and go.
- Ones that stick with you forever.
I of course have been through this. I recall Thunderbirds (introduced to it through my father’s love for Gerry Anderson’s work, in fact one of my LinkedIn connections is his son Jamie) and Robot Wars being my earliest special interests. I dip into them from time to time, but I tend to move on to other things. Cars were in an interest of mine during secondary school but since then it sort of remained in the background in contrast to my main interests (although I still keep up with F1 and other forms of motorsport including Formula E, Indy and the lower categories).
The ones that have truly stuck with me are films, logos and Lego (the final one only recently returning to my life after years of fearing being judged for it). My main interest in writing and making movies came at the age of ten when I used to draw film posters during break and come up with ideas for movies in my head (usually writing them down, and in my opinion, I could have done better in executing them). My film collection continues to grow with each passing day and will probably do so until removable media like DVDs and Blu-Rays become obsolete with the advancements in streaming services and downloadable content. On the subject of logos, I’ve always been fascinated by them, specifically movie, TV and home entertainment logos (as if they’re their own micro-movie ahead of the feature presentation). Once I played only the first few seconds of a VHS copy of The Full Monty just to see what the Fox Searchlight logo was like, given back then video websites were in their infancy and YouTube was yet to take off. My two favourite logos would have to be the old Warner Home Video and CBS Fox logos from the eighties and nineties, and I have recently been catching up on watching some old stuff from VHS tapes from the past, such as the VSC infomercial that played before the start of some Warner Bros VHS tapes to describe the BBFC ratings. And of course, there’s Lego. I have a lot of it, but these days I mostly focus on the adult side of it (sets like the Architecture range, the Ideas and Creator lines and other sets that are 14-18+) that way I can indulge in my love of the Danish product without feeling judged.
Sometimes, when you’re young and whether you’re diagnosed or not, expressing your special interests in the presence of neurotypicals can be a challenging experience. I frankly have lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by my peers to stop talking about whatever it is I’m fixated on or that “nobody is interested in X, Y and Z”. Some neurotypicals can be really judgemental and pig-ignorant at times and really, they have the gall to call us “inconsiderate of others” when they go about trying to deny us the opportunity to express ourselves through our interests. Then again, it was the late nineties to aughties so the political landscape of the time practically dictated hyper individualism and viewing disabled and neurodivergent people with a disdainful “we know what’s best for you” attitude which pretty much rubbed off on NTs (especially with all the anti-vaxxer hysteria and pseudoscience knocking about). Another downside to having a special interest is when it’s something you’re passionate about or have respect for turning out to be the product of an unpleasant person. One such example is the Harry Potter series which was a staple of my childhood but which diminished over time and then took a massive hit when JK Rowling went full mask-off transphobic in 2019 (even going so far as to use autistic people as weapons in her transphobic essay last year). I personally cannot begin to imagine what my fellow auties who identify as trans went through if they were in the HP fanbase and discovered someone they idolised would rather they did not exist.
But in conclusion, special interests are a key part of being autistic. It doesn’t matter if it’s abnormal in contrast to neurotypical standards (be it gender non-conforming or unrelated to one’s age), it is your interest and passion and no-one should take that away from you.