I thought I knew myself and my special interests pretty well. Sure, I spent most of my life unaware of them until after my diagnosis when I realized I have had a life-long (yet evolving) interest in fiction and storytelling. But I had figured that out already. And I was aware of my interest in productivity since that inspired this blog and coaching business. Most other things were mere passing fancies… Or if my therapist is right, hyperfixations.
So I felt pretty confident that “autistic with a special interest in communication” while interesting and very understandable, did not describe me. That is, until I spent the evening of Thanksgiving practically giving a lecture to my uncle about different styles of conversation, and how people can have strong preferences for one or the other, and how that was showing up in our family dynamics. And then on the ride home I broke out laughing at the realization that boy, I was wrong. I definitely have a special interest in communication.
The thing that always trips me up is the stereotypes. Special interests are often represented by all-consuming and encyclopediadic knowledge on a particular subject, or alternatively, an ever growing collection of a particular thing. Or in many cases both. And for many autistics, that is pretty spot on. But my special interests have never looked like that (for a variety of reasons that I will speak with my therapist about).
I definitely do infodump on any unsuspecting person who humors me just a second too long about the current piece of fiction that I’m obsessed with, or my latest theory about why communicating is so damn difficult across neurotypes. Oh, there it is again. It seem so obvious now.
Part of why I never suspected it is because I’ve never really had much interest in studying it in any “serious” way. But the more I think about it, that probably has more to do with my ambivalence toward higher education and mainstream forms of study. Just like I considered going to graduate school for fiction writing and then decided against it, I’ve also in many ways rejected any kind of formal education around things that I am passionate about. Probably because it feels unnecessarily restrictive.
But I delight in learning from my peers, from first-hand accounts, especially in the realm of neurodivergence and particularly autism. Because theories cooked up by an autistic person are often incredibly insightful and well-thought out. Because on the topic of existing as an autistic person in a neurotypical world, who better to analyze it than an overly-analytic autistic person who’s lived their whole life trying to figure it all out?
So I’m delighted to collect theories and models from other autistic people and slowly put together my own theories and models of how it all fits together. And it’s beyond fascinating to apply these models to my everyday life and find that they fit and they shine light on things that made no sense before or that I’d never even thought about.
It makes sense that autism, communication, and productivity are things that I landed on as special interests. These are all things I’ve struggled to understand but needed to understand so badly. And now I’m just fascinated by what I’ve found.
It makes sense that I’ve rejected formal education about them, because the way I like to learn is immersion and application, and models instead of canon.
I was wrong about myself. How fun it is to learn something new about me.