Parents of ASD children are well acquainted with the challenges that come along with their child’s special interests. Special interests can be a tricky thing to deal with a lot of the times, especially, when they hinder the child’s daily routines and activities. Parents often have to work hard to find the right balance when it comes to making sure that these interests are not negatively affecting other important aspects of the child’s life. One of the most challenging aspects is that, curbing these interests completely is not an option since they are such a significant part of the child’s life.
In the following article, we talk about the use of special interests in the context of learning, the child’s overall growth and its relevance in the child’s future.
One of the most common characteristic of people on the autism spectrum is a ‘special interest area’. Studies have shown that a large majority of people on the spectrum have a special interest that they are particularly passionate about. These special interests often shape their interactions with the world.
A study by Rachel Grove and colleagues (2018) aimed at finding out the connection between these special interests and the subjective wellbeing in autistic adults. The researchers found that special interests had a positive impact on autistic adults and were associated with higher subjective wellbeing and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure.
Therapists often use these special interests as means to enhance social skills and other functions of people on the spectrum. Special interests can also be used as a tool for improving reading, writing and speaking skills. Suppose a child has a special interest in trains, he/she can be encouraged to read different books that talk about trains or even an activity asking the child to write down and talk about his/her favorite facts about trains.
The child’s love for trains could certainly be used as part of a reward system, for example, allowing the child to watch a train-related video for 15 minutes after the successful completion of a task. An even more optimal use of this special interest would be to incorporate trains into math problems or even using train routes to learn and better understand the geography of a region.
The manifestation of this special interest of the child into a future career opportunity is a big possibility. Since, people on the spectrum are highly passionate about their interests, the same passion and dedication could be exhibited for a job in that area of special interest. The most recent example that comes to mind is of the powerful global movement for climate change led by Greta Thunberg.
Parents are often encouraged to support these special interests, since they often act as a ‘stress reliever’ for the child. There are different ways in which you could be supportive of your child’s special interest. Some of the simple ways to support your child could be, having meaningful conversations with your child about this interest, finding books around the special interest, or even helping them join a club related to this interest.
Finding the right balance between nurturing these interests and integrating them into the child’s everyday routine without it affecting his/her quality of life, could sometimes prove to be one of the most complicated tasks for ASD parents.
The perspective that these special interests are not mere ‘obsessions’, but rather vehicles for development, will surely add to the overall growth and progress of the child.