- By Elizabeth Wolleben Yoder
- Posted May 26, 2022
The Value and Importance of Autistic Individuals Embracing Special Interests
At Planning Across the Spectrum, we routinely talk to autistic individuals of every age as well as parents who have a child or teenager with autism. When we talk to them something we often tell them regardless of their individual circumstances is to focus on ways to develop and encourage their special interests. Embracing special interests can be an extremely important step in personal and often professional development for autistic individuals. In this blog post, I am going to discuss why embracing special interests is valuable for autistic individuals of any age.
We at Planning Across the Spectrum have found in our personal and professional lives that special interests are particularly helpful in educational settings. For many autistic individuals, this can make undesired learning experiences manageable for someone who just wants to talk about one thing that they especially love. We encourage people to use that one thing as an important tool in helping the autistic child or teen approach learning objectives from their own strengths, which encourages growing opportunities. In ideal situations, a special interest can even turn into a career path. We’ve seen it happen more times than we can count.
When it comes to autistic adults who have turned their special interests into a career, we have also found it is important for them to make their own decisions towards embracing their special interests. Most of us, neurotypical and neurodivergent people alike, are not a stranger to having or knowing people who have a special interest in their careers. How many people can properly describe what their spouse does for work? If someone has a career that is highly technical or specialized, odds are they are already familiar with those interesting times when they get home and attempt to talk about their day with their friends and family, but no one can really understand the specifics of what they're talking about. While talking to loved ones about passions and interests is absolutely important, I often encourage those I’m talking to who have a clear special interest related to their career to consider talking more with people who understand their passion. Instead of going to a family member to explain the intricate way they solved a problem or their success with educating someone on a complex topic, go to the peers in their field. These communities will understand them on a deeper level, and their accomplishments will be more deeply appreciated because of that.
Lastly, I want to stress the value of finding the right community. Sometimes when talking to parents, they will describe their child’s special interest as confusing, interesting, or even wonderful, but still something others cannot appreciate. They recognize that their child knows more about the topic than they are able to understand and that they are often out of their league with the conversations their child brings to them. What they don’t know is that there is almost always a community out there that will understand the excitement that their child has. And these communities will allow that child to build the right connections and find the right kind of motivation to encourage growth and participation. These connections can form everything from casual acquaintances to close friends, and both are important. A broad spectrum of different relationships and connections are crucial for personal and professional growth in neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals.
The right community is often not in an autistic person’s personal family. Parents are not the best person to encourage someone’s career development in general. Not all of us are able to take advice well from those closest to us, especially parents. Families can be crucial for developing and encouraging these interests, but when it comes to building a career, we believe it is valuable to know what we have found as the most beneficial approach. In our experience mentorship come best from someone who can see the value in a young person who shares their expertise or interest without being connected to a family. This mentor doesn’t have a long history of wishing the young person well. They don't have the background of understanding the past ups and downs or what's going on in the family. They don't have the complexities of family history. Their only connection to the child or young person is the specific interest that they share, and mentorship can flourish into learning from each other. A mentor in this position can bring a fresh perspective, and that often brings excitement and motivation as well. Special interests are extremely valuable to the individuals that have them when supported effectively, and that means knowing how each person in their lives fits into that support structure.
If you are an autistic individual feeling like you can’t share the excitement about a topic at home or with your friends because people don’t understand you, know that you are not alone. This is a much more common experience than you might expect. Find your community! Make your life richer by sharing yourself with groups that love what you love! You never know where embracing the things you love is going to lead, but that’s the fun part! Because while you don’t know where it leads, you know it’s going to be all about something you truly love.
Contact Planning Across The Spectrum for certified financial planning services for unique needs and a consultation that will start you or your loved one on the right path to success!