What’s the difference between an obsession and a special interest?
Many aspies have special interests. When asking an aspie to write about his special interest, make sure to suggest he limits his explanation to a maximum of seventy pages.
An obsession is something that gets in the way of everyday life, like stopping someone from working or going to school. There’s nothing wrong with having a special interest.
Why do aspies have special interests?
Aspies have a gift for super focus, plus we aren’t so distracted by social intervention. Aspie teens don’t spend so much time struggling to win a popularity contest or worrying about the latest gossip, footballs games, or fashion.
Different aspies have different special interest according to their personality and likes. A special interest can also result from need and events. For example, an aspie who’s been bullied too many times might develop a special interest with Marshal arts or ways to escape bullies.
My special interests
As a child, I went on and on about cats, and the other little girls in school hated me because of that. They’d glare, but I didn’t see the anger in their eyes. I just knew they looked at me, and their eyes narrowed. They’d storm out of the classroom and slam the door, and I’d assumed they were in a hurry and had slammed the door unintentionally, or maybe they just didn’t have time to close it slowly.
My special interest now is the passage of time. How many things can change in the course of one hour. How many things can happen, how many facts can one learn. Time in a movie or a book is much faster. I always like it when I read in a book or see in a movie how morning turns into noon and then evening. How it starts to rain, then the rain tapers and finally stops. It takes time for the rain to start, then stop. That’s why I like it.
And I also like to read about someone doing things, like cooking, setting the table, then eating. This takes time too. It’s also nice reading about a bus ride, how the scenario changes gradually. I like seeing the seasons change in a movie.
Watching the clock constantly messes up my calculations, so at work I hide the hour by placing a piece of paper against the bottom of the computer. I always find a place with my back against the clock.
One girl at work asked me about it, and I told her I don’t like seeing the time, so she said, “I hate to tell you, but it’s four thirty five o’clock exactly.” I don’t find this funny at all. I also don’t like it when workers remove the piece of paper as a joke.
This ‘obsession’ helps me get through long hours of work. It helps me get over my fear in the dentists’ office. How long can filling a cavity take? I try to see how many things I can think about during that time, how many thoughts it will take to fill the gap in time that is my dentists appointment.
There’s nothing wrong with an autistic person having a special interest. In fact, it can enrich a person’s life. From my point of view, if it doesn’t take over everyday life, it’s no problem.
How to talk about your special interest to a neurotypical
The best way is not to talk about one’s special interest with people who aren’t interested in it. After all, I wouldn’t like it if someone went on and on about latest gossip or group sports (ugh). Find someone who shares your interest.
Another thing is not to talk about one’s special interest for too long. Talk about it for a while and then change the subject. Then the other person will enjoy your conversation and learn from it.
‘The Rosie Effect’ is a a perfect example of aspie super focus. Don Tillman is an Australian geneticist with Asperger who looks for a wife in a scientific manner, making the search a project. Hilarious and endearing. Click to view