Special interests: the secret sauce of motivation

One of the hallmarks of autism is a remarkable focus on certain subjects that are of interest to us.
These topics are so enjoyable and intriguing that we can be intensely driven, living encyclopaedias we it comes to them. For instance, if there was a pHD in Godzilla movies or Nintendo game design, I would have smashed that like a glass iPhone dropped from orbit.
Some people on the spectrum are experts in steam trains, others in computer graphics, others in feudal Japanese history. It’s just incredible how focussed these interests can be. For many of us, we spend the majority of our conscious hours thinking about these things.
A potential problem, however, and one that I’m seeing a lot of parents of autistic children bringing up, is that when spaceships or ancient Rome are so fascinating and fun, it can be hard to get the autistic mind to concentrate on other things. Because other things are just boring by comparison. Who cares about algebra, we wanna know about the fastest and most powerful steam engine ever built!
What I’ve found is that the salad of non-interest can be surprisingly palatable when flavoured with a little special interest sauce.
Speaking from my own experience, I loved English in school because open-ended tasks like reviews and short stories allowed me to write those reviews on the films and video games I had special interests in, or write stories about topics that interested me.
Say a kid hates mathematics but loves fighter jets; get him/her to figure out how long it would take for one to fly from Melbourne to Sydney at a certain speed.
Use their special interest to engage them with otherwise unappealing subjects and tasks, because once you get that part of their brain fired up, it can unlock an almost bottomless well of passionate brilliance.


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