My special interests and I have gone through an unusual journey. I almost rejected them upon my initial reaction of dealing with life after high school and knowing the documented struggles with autistic adults. During that time, I decided to aim for work in the autism field by attending community college where I had this mindset that I should be limiting my own special interests. It was not until I read Life, Animated that my mindset was changed. Seeing how Owen Suskind used Disney movies to help reconnect with the world made me look back at my own prior interests, which consisted of video games and movies. From 2016 to 2020, I regained my special interests and gained new interests (autism, driving) straight out of my challenges. It got to the point where I needed to let go and forgive my special interests. I would like to use this article to give out tips I learned to help any families and individuals find their place in the world. There is in fact meaning to special interests!
Tip 1: Special Interests Can Be Life Changing!
I had several special interests where it changed my life for the better. My most prime example of this is playing the video games series, NieR. Aging out of school, everything became confusing for me. I made some bad choices and I forced myself to play more “mature” games. Dark Souls was a game I forced myself to play, but my heart was not for it. Admittedly, I ran into a game called NieR for PlayStation 3. I heard good things about the story and once I started playing, I got very into it. The story changed from a father trying to cure his sick daughter into a story about humanity at all of it aspects. I was blown away and after I finished, I waited for the next sequel, NieR:Automata. I played this and loved it as well. Playing the sequel made me realized that the NieR series helped me cope with these life changes. It also helped me developed a gray mind because of the themes of existentialism and humanity. I really feel that playing these games helped me accept and take in more perspectives as I developed more in my work field. I became a better person as a result, all because of a video game series. Even now in a COVID world, this series is still on my side.
Tip 2: Struggles Can Result in New Special Interests
My own struggles with re-finding my place in this world created two interests as a result, which are autism and driving. I became intense in researching my work field, attending conferences and workshops and attending local events. I had to make sure I knew what I was doing. I managed to become good with networking and I know several organizations because of it. It is this reason that I was hired to be the Event Facilitator for Planning Across the Spectrum in 2019 and eventually, their Autism Transition Coordinator role in August 2020. The interest in driving came out of a needed for a better transportation option. I had no choice but to learn how to drive because my field demands it. I had to be creative in finding time to practice driving in a state with little resources towards this topic. It took me more time, but I obtained my driver’s license in 2018. I learned how to drive around my state and some places in Massachusetts. Driving feels natural to me now and I share my stories over to families, so they have a better idea how to navigate this topic.
Tip 3: Use Special Interests in Employment
As you can tell, my work field connects to my special interests noticeably. Planning Across the Spectrum has me work on a national autism event calendar, which uses my interest in autism. I also reach out to numerous organizations to network and collaborate for future projects. In my current role, I work at a driving school in CT (The Next Street) for their autism program and I handle consultations with parents and host monthly virtual workshops. Even my old job coaching position used my interests to create rapport with my students. My interests in anime and video games paid off because of my students being interested in those topics. I can use it to find ways to help my student succeed as independently as possible at their job sites. One time, I used Rocky music to help them get motivated with a work task. If a special interest can be used for employment, research it as much as possible. These interests are genuine in creating motivation for our individuals and if one looks good enough, it can be a work experience. Planning Across the Spectrum is run by a financial advisor, Andrew Komarow who is on the spectrum and is motivated to help families navigate the financial side of autism.
Tip 4: Special Interests Can Lead to Social Opportunities!
I had a short-lived desire to make video games, despite having no skills to do so. While video games are more of a social interest, I use it as such. I end up going to social events in regards of collecting video games. Basically, it is meeting other local people to buy, sell, and/or trade games with each other. It made me comfortable being out in the community and I gained numerous friends. When one invited me for a baby shower, that meant I was doing something right. Another example is using my interest in classic movies and I discovered a cool place that plays movies every month. I happened to see a screening of Fantasia online. I had a mental debate on should I go or not. I decided to go, and it turns out this historical society uses an actual film projector to plays movie. I saw a 70s print of Fantasia on pure film. It was because of my interests in movies that I discovered a place that plays movies each month that I can attend.
Anything can happen in your child’s life. Special interests can disappear or flourish and it is up to parents, professionals, and the individual themselves to encourage these interests. Special interests are worth fighting for. It became liberating for me to embrace my interests despite everything that happened to me. It gave me a full purpose to my own life. We all have a short time on this earth, so why limit our interests when it should be a time for discovery and making a mark upon this world!
Andrew Arboe can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.planningacrossthespectrum.com.