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Embrace Special Interests

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Special interests often play a crucial role in the lives of autistic people. Special interests, sometimes known as SPINs, are intense, focused pursuits that can not only be a source of joy and fulfilment but also a means to bolster mental health. In this blog post, we will explore the connection between special interests and autistic mental health, along with recommendations on how to figure out what your special interest is and how to embrace it. 

For many autistic people, special interests serve as a sanctuary- a place where they can immerse themselves in something that provides comfort, joy, and a sense of purpose. These interests often offer a predictable, structured domain in which individuals can feel in control, reduce anxiety and provide a way to express their feelings and themselves. Research has shown that engaging with special interests can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing for those on the spectrum. Many autistic people also struggle engaging in things outside of their special interest which can explain why they seem inattentive in classes/jobs or towards their classmates/colleagues who are interested in other things.

Special interests can sometimes become a big part of a person’s identity like for instance a badminton player who devotes themselves to the sport and their life revolves around everything to do with badminton. However, not all autistic people have just one interest. Many have multiple interests that can drop suddenly and change over time. Furthermore, not all autistic individuals have a special interest or have to have one to have a healthy mental wellbeing. Some individuals may still be figuring out what their special interests are. Here are some recommendations on how to find your special interest:

  • Try new activities: Be more open to trying out new activities or hobbies. Whether it’s art, music, science, or nature, exposing yourself to a variety of experiences can help you identify what truly captures your interest. 
  • Pay attention to your reactions: Notice how you respond to different experiences. What activities or topics leave you feeling energized, focused, or deeply engaged? Pay attention to your emotional responses to different stimuli.
  • Reflect on childhood interests: Often, our childhood interests can provide clues to our passions. Reflect on what activities or subjects brought you joy during your early years. These childhood interests can often resurface and evolve over time.
  • Seek inspiration: Engage with books, films, or conversations that explore a wide range of topics. Inspiration can strike from unexpected sources, and exposure to new ideas can spark a passion you never knew you had.
  • Be compassionate: Sometimes individuals may feel stuck when they’re trying to figure out what they like and what they are good at. This is quite normal and it is important to remember that exploring these things takes time. So, don’t worry too much if you feel like you don’t have a special interest, perhaps now is not the right time for you. 

Some autistic individuals have multiple special interests and sometimes may feel overwhelmed with all the hobbies and activities they have accumulated. If you are on the autism spectrum or supporting someone who is, here are some recommendations on how to embrace and support a special interest:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take the time to reflect on activities or topics that truly captivate your attention. Consider what brings you joy, comfort and satisfaction.
  2. Find communities: Seek out a supportive environment that encourages the exploration and development of your special interest. This might involve sharing your passion with friends, family, or a supportive community. There are many communities online where other neurodivergent individuals share their interests such as Reddit, Discord or Instagram. 
  3. Integrate your interest into your day-to-day activities: Find ways to integrate your special interest into your daily routine. Whether it’s setting aside time each day to engage with your passion or incorporating it into your work or studies, weaving your interest into your life can provide structure and a sense of purpose.
  4. Balance and wellbeing: While immersing yourself in your special interest is important, it is equally important to maintain balance. Many autistic people can become so hyper-fixated on their interests that they forget to eat, or sleep! So, remember to take care of your physical, emotional, and social wellbeing while pursuing your passion. 

Special interests play a vital role in the lives of autistic people by offering a source of joy and purpose. Take the time to explore and nurture your interests and watch as they become powerful catalysts for your personal growth and development. If you’re on the autism spectrum, or supporting someone who is, remember that your special interest is not just a hobby- it’s a valuable tool for nurturing mental and physical wellbeing and it’s a big part of who you are.

Author: NeuroDirect