Declan’s interests (like all of ours) are very diverse and it was hard to pick just one. However, he articulates special interests and there comforting nature so well, this seems like a good crash course. Any neurotpyicals hoping to understand how special interests function should give this a read.
Hi, my name is Declan. I turned 40 this year. Nearly 3 years ago now, my life changed when I found out that I was on the Autism Spectrum. It changed for the better.
I was initially very skeptical when it was first suggested to me that I might have Asperger’s. I had limited knowledge of it at the time, my only real references were characters on television like Abed in Community and Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. I didn’t feel like I had anything similar to either of them.
Slowly, as I learned more about autism and the diverse spectrum, I found more that I could relate to. An aversion to crowds, a heightened anxiety in unfamiliar situations, etc. And an almost fanatical interest in certain things.
I knew from a young age that I was a bit different. While my siblings and friends and I shared some similar likes, my own interests in these things would be far more intense.
I wanted to know everything about certain subjects. I would watch the same films and tv shows again and again and read books and comics until I could recite them almost word for word.
It started with films like Star Wars. Cartoons like Transformers, He-Man, M.A.S.K. Comics like Transformers were also common. Books like Lord Of the Rings were a favourite, too. I’ve always had an interest in the fantastical, it grew to include Greek mythology.
A pattern emerged. If I liked a book I would read it again and again and again. The same was true with films, tv shows and comics. I would rather read the same book 10 times than 10 different books. I’ve tried to change this over the years, but even now I find myself returning to the same things over and over. It’s like an old friend that you feel comfortable with.
I call it ‘comfort reading’. It’s like ‘comfort watching’, or ‘comfort listening’. Like ‘comfort eating’, which I tend to do a lot of as well! Day to day my life can be quite difficult.
Heightened senses. Being bustled in a crowd of people. Facing unknown quantities. When I finally return home, I can seek refuge in a favourite book, or tv show or listen to music. One of my favourite ways of relaxing after the hassles of the day is by lying on my bed and listening to music, especially classical. It tends to soothe me.
While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of having autism, I’ve also taken joy in my ability to remember a vast sum of knowledge of my favourite interests.
Without preparation I can rattle off lyrics from Beatles’ songs, lines from Blackadder episodes and Monty Python skits, biographical information about rugby players, 200 + Transformers characters, DC and Marvel superheroes. Facts and trivia about a myriad of different subjects.
I don’t have one subject that I could go on Mastermind with. I have about ten. My friends and family have often encouraged my interests. I remember once when I was in school and we were studying for the Leaving Cert.
It was the same year that the Star Wars Special Editions were released (1997). One of the guys in my class found out that I had a vast knowledge of all things Star Wars and for the next while I was bombarded with questions.
I was able to answer every one. I felt a certain pride and no ridicule from my schoolmates. It’s a fond memory that I cherish. Like I’ve said, being on the spectrum can be difficult at times so it’s nice to enjoy the positives as well.
I’ve sometimes used some aspects of my Asperger’s (it’s what I call it) to counter other aspects. For example, I was get very stressed on planes. I could sense the anxiousness of the people around and was in a confined space. I felt like my personal space was being invaded. The myriad of smells and noises around me were overwhelming. It was getting quite painful. I felt like having a scream and trying to break loose. Instead I started reciting favourite Blackadder episodes in my head and muttering under my breath. Not too loudly. Sort of my own version of self-stimming.
It helped overcome the pain of the situation.
I do try to tone it down a little and not bombard those around me with too many bits of trivia that they may have little interest in. I give them a few but not too many! Eventually, I grew out of my phase of prompting characters while watching a movie before they said the line themselves.
I was able to combine my interests for public acclaim when a rugby magazine printed a rugby team comprised of superheroes that I sent them. Indeed, I’ve been able to impress members of my family by being able to recount the story of the Trojan War without needing to look up any details.
It’s great to see that quite a few people share my interests and have similar abilities. I’m not alone in this. As Greta Thurnberg recently said Aspiepower!