Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Special interests

Someone shared a link today which gives one lots of food for thought. If you'd like to read:

The boy's fascination with lampposts brought back memories. Two of my special interests as a child were fences and leaves. I was always on the lookout for fences made from more than one kind of material, or that were more than one colour. And loved to count them. Some fences were borderline - I remember how agitated I felt when my mom drove too fast past such a fence and I did not have enough time to assess whether the fence qualified to be counted or not. I knew exactly how many there on our way to school, or town, or the airport etc, but I still needed to count them every time. And found it hugely exciting when my mom drove different routes - new fences to see and count! Going on holiday was equally wonderful - whole new towns full of fences!

And leaves - how wonderful leaves are. I was specifically interested in the length of the middle nerve of the leaf and could spend hours peeling away the rest of the leaves and then compare the lengths of the nerves I had. This was serious business. And I had an ongoing dialogue running in my head the whole time. This would switch off the moment I put the leaves down, and start up again when I started working with the leaves. I guess those were the hours people describe as 'in a world of her own'. Which is hard to understand - aren't we all in a world of our own?

These kinds of special interests is described as 'persistent preoccupation with parts of objects', 'encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus', 'apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals', and so forth. These descriptions make me smile and make me sad at the same time. Why do other people have the right to see this as 'symptoms'? Why is it bad? Why could I not decide that other little girls' fascination with barbies and tea parties and clothes were inappropriate and nonfunctional? Because that is the way I felt. I have grown to appreciate that we all live in our own worlds with our own interests, and I do not see other peoples' interests as negative, as 'symptoms', even if I do not understand them at all. I would like the same acceptance for me and other autistic people.


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