While discussing autism and namely special interests with my family yesterday, I was semi-joking that my wife has a special interest in a certain football team. I said this as she was decked out in team-specific garb, most of which she has received as Christmas gifts, though some she has bought for herself — a rare extravagance for her.
In response to my special-interest comment about football, two of my children responded in ways I found insightful and clever. The first said to me, “You are unlucky because you have special interests most people don’t want to talk about.” The second stated that, “Liking a football team is usually considered normal. Enjoying talking about autism is not usually considered normal.”
I let that sink in. “Liking a football team is usually considered normal.”
Oh, yes. Now I recall when I consciously started watching sports as a way to make conversation with most people. I figured those who didn’t follow sports would have other areas of interest similar to mine. At that time, years ago, I don’t think I even knew what autism was. Discussing sports did seem to take away some stress of not knowing what to say to others, especially since it seemed better than traditional small talk.
Traditional small talk; that’s an amusing phrase. Maybe that should be in my never-to-be-finished autism lexicon with the abbreviation, T.S.T. I suppose that’s in contrast to N.S.T or non-traditional small talk. Maybe N.S.T. is what autistics engage in when trying to properly achieve T.S.T. Who knows? I do recognize this slight digression, and that’s the expressed joy, so to speak, of also having ADHD. I just laugh, especially at this time of the day.
My wife is somewhat tired of this semi-joking about her having special interest that seems to fit within the normal range of non-autistic humans. However, it’s my way of attempting to explain autism to her when I think she doesn’t understand. Connecting to people is important to me, especially those closest to me. But, It’s starting to feel futile. She is considering getting an official ASD test, largely because two of my children are also encouraging it. I hypothesize that if we both are autistic, external differences gave rather different outcomes based on our family situations, gender stereotypes and behaviors, and the popularity of our interests and activities. Furthermore, our personalities are quite different.
My wife was a star two-sport college athlete while I was spending time alone practicing and creating music most people have no interest in or understanding of. One of those areas tends to allow for smoother entrance into a conversation than the other. I’m luckier than many, as music can connect more easily than many other special interests. If all I wanted to discuss was the history of Tasmanian unicorn figurines, I’d have even less chance to connect with people. Then again, that sounds interesting to me — at least for a few minutes. It’s when it takes over for months or years . . . Oh, I get it. I am annoying. But, it’s because my interest does not coincide with those within the so-called normal range that I’m annoying. And, it’s also a bit more excessive than what is considered normal as well. Most people don’t care about the details of music like I do.
What is the difference then between a normal interest or special interest?
A normal one is whatever society accepts as within certain arbitrary guidelines. A special one is outside of that. Typically, normal would indicate a high percentage, as in ninety percent or more. If you are in a group of ten people, and nine of them are OK talking football, and you want to discuss your special interest, you will feel alienated. That’s why I started studying up on sports to the point I know some information most people don’t. Of course, then they are both surprised I know it and then immediately don’t care. I guess I can turn a normal interest into a special one.
I got my wife a trivia book about her football team one year for Christmas. I knew more about the team, history, and players than she did! Of course. Her normal interest had become my special interest. I can’t win. I forgot not everyone wants to learn all that information about a team.
So, what to do? The simple answer, especially in my current circumstance, is whatever I want, as long as it’s not too impractical or causes real problems for anyone. I only need to figure out what that is. Maybe it’s time for a new special interest or a return to one from long ago. Or, I’ll just keep writing and make that what I do for now. Perhaps, my special interest will be finding my special interest!
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