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Focusing on Special Interests

Asperger’s Syndrome and Special Interests

Asperger's Special InterestsSpecial Interests, For When My Well Runs Dry.
I can focus for hours and hours on end on reading, writing, or playing poker. The rest of the world disappears; I can forget it exists. It calms me, and the stress melts away. When I’m focused on one of my interests, I lose track of time, forget to eat, and am annoyed at even the interruption of needing to use the bathroom.
Interruptions invoke immediate anger. This is not a conscious response. It’s my first knee-jerk reaction. I can’t control it; anger is just the first response. I can, however, control my reaction to that anger. But make no mistake about it-that is not something that comes naturally or easily.
Controlling my immediate reactions is one of those things that are easier said than done.
To other people it is a mystery that I can focus so intently on special interests but have no sustainable focus for anything else. What they don’t understand is that being absorbed by my interests is how I decompress.
Focusing on and sustaining life activities…jobs, budgets, housekeeping, etc. takes from me. It is an exhausting struggle; a desperate attempt to tread water while drowning.
Life drains my well. Special interests fill it back up. I need that time, I need that filling, that relaxing, that decompressing, in order to accomplish the other tasks in my life.
My special interests have changed throughout my life. I just wrote about my very first special interest in my blogged book, Twirling Naked in the Streets; I was four years old.
Today, my interests look different; they include reading, writing, and autism. When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I read every book I could get my hands on, consumed as much information as I could, and enrolled in writing classes. Beware: I tend to do more learning about doing than the actual doing, but I’m working on it. (See, I’m actually writing.)
Several years ago, when I decided I wanted to learn how to play poker, I went about it much the same way. I joined a training site, spent uncountable hours playing, and recording sessions, studying hands that I won, and lost, and of course, reading everything I could find. I have a pretty extensive poker book library now, if you’re wanting to try and find information on gambling and how you could go about trying to win some money, click here for more info. One of my friends even suggested that I look at some online casino sites to see if they have any poker games on there. Apparently, ????? have some good poker games. Perhaps I’ll have to have a look into that later. I still love playing poker, but I don’t do it as much as I used to. So, hopefully, online casino games could respark my interest in casinos and poker. Hopefully, it isn’t another interest that has come and gone so to speak. I have been recommended to go onto the best Vietnamese casino online (or so I have heard) if I ever do go back and want to look at other casino games.
For a long time I was frustrated by this. It fed the idea that I can never stick with, or complete anything (OK-maybe I can’t). But, now I know that it is normal for these intense interests to change, and I will try to not feel so bad about myself for putting so much energy into something only to have it lose its awe.
I began writing this post from the dentist chair yesterday. Actually I began writing many things from that chair yesterday, which an example of how this interest (writing) calms me. When I returned home I found that a wonderfully insightful woman on the spectrum wrote an article on her blog, Musings of an Aspie, about special interests. She writes, “What’s So Special About Special Interests?”
Considering my contemplations for the day, her post was timely and I needed to share it with you. Read it, it’s a great article. I hope you find her answer as insightful as I did.
What are some of your special interests?
Have they changed throughout the years?
Do you have any that remained the same?
(For me, reading and obsessive learning has stayed the same–can I consider that an interest? Hmmmm??)

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


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  2. Just curious: how long do your special interests usually last, and how many do you usually maintain at a time?

    • I usually maintain one MAIN special interest at a time and sometime a few shorter lasting minor ones. Specials for me, can last anywhere from a year to a few years….unfortunately I find that once I am done with one, I rarely return to it, and that is what gives the appearance of never sticking with anything, or finishing what I start. I can spent a lot of time, and money on an interest and then sometimes a switch just flips and I am done. Even I am frustrated by this!

  3. It’s interesting to talk about special interests! OK, to start, I just suspect that I have Asperger’s, and I don’t think it’s severe, because I don’t get sensory issues besides that I feel overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd (and stim more as a result), really sick of the texture of apples, and skins of plums and grapes and frightened by the noise of loud engines, and I never get meltdowns; I really want to get a professional diagnosis because I really wonder what caused my social troubles and why are they so hard to solve (though I’m doing a lot better now compared to 4 years ago), but the price is unscrupulous.

    My special interest has changed through time, usually lasting for 1-2 years, sometimes more or less. It changed from the (cartoon version of) Chinese classic Journey to the West when I was 4 and 5 to Chinese history when I was 6 to brass musical instruments when I was 7 and 8 to astronomy when 8 and 9 (and again but a little stronger when I was 16 and 17) to cats and ants when 9 and 10 to Star Wars when 10 to computer graphics from 11 to 14 (this one was by far the most consuming, so consuming that I would ignore my homework of all other subjects and would blow up if my parents tried to pull me away from my computer) to airports and 2010 Shanghai World Expo when 14 to 15 (by then it was 2009 and 2010). My interest in computer graphics inspired an interest in art in general when I was 15, and I’m still intensely interested in art and now I’m 21, though back in high school, I expressed my interest mainly in drawing and painting, while after getting into college, I frequent exhibitions and read extensively about art instead. For about half a year when I was 16, I was addicted to Tap Tap Revenge, but because of the adverse effects of the addiction on my health (both physical and spiritual) and grades, I swore to God that I would never ever play any electronic game, which I found designed to be addictive (many NTs are also addicted to games, right?) and I’m still seriously keeping this oath. Actually when I was 13, I was also interested in law. My interest in law was revitalized when I was 17, only became much more intense, because I was fascinated by Quran: a Reformist Translation, whose translator was a lawyer but is now teaching philosophy, when I converted from Sunni Islam to Quranism (like a protestant movement in Islam). It was so consuming that it affected my grade in art and math, but not biology and chemistry; my interest in art faded into the background but did not cease when I was 17 and 18. Meanwhile, I was crazy about the piano, though my interest in piano faded somewhere when I was 18. My interest in law forever changed my life. After a year into law, reading case laws and statutes, I realized that the spirit of law is actually philosophy, so that inspired an interest in philosophy, which made my background interest in theology and exegesis more pronounced. Another crucial change is that while before that I mainly memorized details (like IATA codes of airports), philosophy made me move beyond that and actually think about the meaning of what I was doing and make connections among details to see the big picture. By then it was my freshman year in college. I was considering a major in philosophy, anthropology, or religious studies, though eventually, I settled down to molecular biology (I later added systems biology as a second major), considering the fact that I have more talent in biology and chemistry. Then, I was 19. Another side interest: My parents noted that I stayed indoors all the time, and encouraged me to buy a bike to travel around. So I bought a bike, and got obsessed with cycling for a few months (I’ve never been so athletic), though this interest faded after I joined a lab, as I no longer had time for cycling. My decision on a science major narrowed down my interest in general philosophy and theology into science and religion (about dialogue between science and religion), and my interest in art in general into art as a perspective to facilitate dialogue between science and religion. It’s likely that my interest in science and religion will be lifelong. I’ve been interested in photography ever since I got interested in computer graphics, since the two are related, though my interest in photography has always been in the background. This year, after taking a class about electromagnetism and optics, I began to get crazy about photography, which to some extent further qualifies my interest in art. Maybe it worths it, as no other art medium is also so widely used in science ever since the conception of the medium. Also, this summer, I’m wondering if I have Asperger’s because I really wonder why I’ve been struggling socially all my life; then inadvertently, I got crazy about Asperger’s itself. Yes, I deeply sympathize with you about what it’s like to have a special interest and what it’s like to incessantly talk about it. I also sit there for several hours, forgetting to eat, losing track of time, focusing on the special interest; sometimes I’m reluctant to go to the bathroom until I almost pee on my pants, and indeed, when I was a toddler, I often focused so intensively on a toy or playing at a playground that I did pee everywhere at the playground several times, refusing to leave.

    To me, it seems that I don’t have full control over which special interest to choose, but there seems to be a pattern. If the subject in along a certain line, which to me, seems like the intersection between science and humanities, and I get an opportunity to engage with it or something closely related with focus, then it’s likely for me to turn it into a special interest. OK, my interest in the World Expo was bizarre (I think this is the weirdest and most specific one ever), but it’s still on the line of art and technology. It seems that most of my special interests started this way. How did my special interests change? It’s less predictable than how they started. Sometimes I lose a special interest when I acquire a new one or transition to a related one. Sometimes I lose a special interest when I’m forced not to pursue it and later adapted to life without it (like the case of cycling), though the process of adaptation was hard. Sometimes I lose a special interest when I realize that I’m unable to do well enough in it (like in the case of piano). I usually only have 1 or 2 intense interests at a time while keeping other interests to the background, though the other interests can later reemerge in the intense form. BTW, I heard from Wrong Planet that there’s an “Aspie writing style” of too much detail and examples and not separating paragraphs, and I’ve been doing exactly this even before I knew there’s such a thing called Asperger’s, but I don’t know how to cut down details in this comment further. So sorry for potentially wasting your time with this comment.

  4. Is it too late to add a reply to this? I came across this post via a different one, strangely I think it was from Musings of an Aspie, although I can’t remember, because I’ve been busy with other things in the meantime before I decided to read this post.

    Currently, my special interest is in making music. This has been in interest in the past, but gave way for other interests. Some of my other previous interests were with computers, more specifically the hardware regarding them. After that it was mobile technology, also more specifically smartphones and the hardware regarding them. Largely last year and the year before that, it was computer graphics modelling, animations and renderings. For a couple of months in last year it was a specific game on my smartphone; an online game.

    The interest in CG is still very strong, and I’ll probably go back to that once the interest in music wears off.

    • Hi Daniel,

      It is never too late to comment on posts 🙂

      I am still working on my current special interest which is writing…for a few years and partially so still it was Giants (yes, like the giants in the bible, and mythology) I wrote my first novel based on these myths and then put it aside when Aspergers took over as my special interest so it was left unedited.

      Before writing (for several years) it was poker, before that making t-shirts, and one that always comes back is real estate…I love houses and architecture. So you see they do seem to come and go and have a life and will of their own. Last month a short lived obsession with redoing my kitchen kept me painting, and tiling when I should have been writing and working. LOL

  5. I shall call mine “passions”. Reading has always been one of them. A few have changed over the years. I love frogs. I own and care for up to 15 at any one time. I love nature and have to be in the woods daily. Trains. The ocean. And computer stuff now. What’s really cool is a bunch of folks getting together to talk about our passions. Them other folks without passions– at times I feel sorry for them.

  6. I can very much relate with what you say. I think thats where we can become obsessive compulsive. My recent special interests seem to be about aspergers ironically. A different thing to get obsessed about i guess

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