Just to warn you, what you’re about to read is sort of a far-too-soppy post about love. I don’t mean romantic love, though. I don’t even mean platonic love, although I could just as easily describe how the love and care and support and patience of family and friends is absolutely invaluable when things get tough. But today I want to talk about something else entirely; the unique, concentrated, powerful, hard-to-articulate feeling of an autistic special interest.
The giddy joy of the initial phase of research-research-research-consume-consume-consume, the flappy stimmy delight of engaging with it again or in a new way, the happy relief of wondering whether you have special-interest-feelings for the thing anymore only for them to come rushing back at the first sign of new material, the excitement of talking about it to someone who’ll actually listen, the occasional realisation that I love this so so much that I don’t know how to begin conveying it to others, all that makes special interests valuable in and of themselves. Every so often I encounter neurotypical people who talk about special interests as if their only value is that they could be made into a career, usually followed by neurotypical parents of autistic children bemoaning the fact that not all special interests can be “made productive” in this way – something that I think is also true of my own even as an adult. But so what? Neurotypical children (and adults) are allowed to play and relax and have fun without having everything they like turned into either a job or therapy, so why can’t we? Even if that’s all a special interest does, it is still so, so valuable.
For me though, even as an adult whose special interests have absolutely no relation to my career choices, I find that they are productive in other ways. One of them in particular has worked wonders with my university social life and my general ability to strike up a conversation, for example. But again, it’s not all about meeting the requirements of a neurotypical world. Sometimes, it’s about getting through the impossible and surviving that world without falling apart. And for that, that feeling is a not-so-secret weapon.
This isn’t the case for everyone on the spectrum, but my special interests are quite consistent. I know they’re there, always, if I need them, and no matter what the rest of the world is doing to me at any given moment, I know that I have something to cling to. Something safe, but more than that, something that will make me incredibly and undeniably happy despite everything else. Yeah, it’s a crutch, but so is alcohol and dominant society gives people flak for not partaking in that one!
Past experience has shown me time and time again that I can get through pretty much anything armed with my earphones and special interest material. This feels a bit like a superpower. Not only can they get me through pretty much anything but they can also sometimes be the reason I’m trying to overcome something huge in the first place – my other big special interest goes against all my sensory issues, and yet I go through with it because I’m like a moth to its flame, and I cope because the cause of the problem itself is also like super-effective stimming. It’s a confidence thing too; in theory this shouldn’t work, but in practice it always Just Does, and the obstacle in front of me is downgraded from “basically a meltdown on a plate, literally impossible” to “really really difficult and at times it seems impossible but you’ve got this, your own obsessions have got your back”.
My brain last week was weirdly like the setting of one of those old legends; the most terrifying beast of all had returned far stronger than ever before and brought the whole city to its knees, but the beast was slain (er, for another year…) by a force that was, against all the odds, even more powerful still.
A force that I think of as love.