Tuesday, October 11, 2022

20+ Common Autism Special Interest Areas & Examples

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Wondering what the most common types of special interests in autism are? Here's a detailed list of autism special interest examples and categories.

There are a lot of stereotypes about autism out there. For instance, when most people think about special interests in autism, they probably think of things like trains, impressive math skills, or maybe even penguins after watching a TV show like Atypical. 

But not all autistic people are into memorizing train schedules and learning about different types of locomotives. Nor are they all mathematical savants or animal lovers. Shocking that the most common special interests you hear about are just stereotypes...

The point is that their special interests vary a lot. There's a wide range of topics and categories that they're into besides trains or penguins, as you'll soon see in this list of common autism special interest examples. So let's explore what those common themes and categories are.

Common autism special interest areas & examples

The Most Common Categories of Autistic Special Interests with Examples

Recent research has described the most common special interests found among autistic individuals. For instance, Jordan and Caldwell-Harris (2012) found and described 18 different categories. Nowell et al. (2020), on the other hand, described over 30 categories (although many of them could have been combined into one broader category). 

Please keep in mind that the following list of categories is by no means exhaustive. There are many more special interests that could be captured on this list and it's impossible to get them all.

Instead, this list is meant to give you an idea of the wide range of intense interests that autistic people have. 

Common special interests in autism

It's also worth noting that sometimes an interest may be so unique that it doesn't fit neatly into any of these categories. Or, an interest may fit into more than one category.

While this list of special interest areas is based on the themes found in the research, it does include suggestions reported by autistic adults and parents of autistic kids as well.

Usually, autistic special interests fall into one of the following categories:

1. Machines and technology

  • Elevators, computers, clocks, radios, fans, computers, video games, watching things turn, pressing buttons, taking things apart, coding, TV

2. Information and mechanical systems

  • Plumbing, wiring, maps, train/subway schedules, city planning, traffic lights, intersections/roads, interest in creating systems of their own such as maps or languages, asking questions about how things work, memorizing routes, schedules

3. Sorting, categorizing, and organizing

  • Lining up objects, arranging things and putting objects in specific orders (alphabetical order, color order, etc.), making lists

4. Belief systems, religion, and politics

  • Religions, mythologies, alternative beliefs, political systems

5. Sports and games

  • Chess, board games, video games, bowling, basketball, baseball, football, sports facts and stats

6. Factual information

  • Trivia, memorizing stats and lists, reading dictionaries, making lists of facts, quizzing people, interest in fonts used in logos and designs, reading non-fiction books

7. Sensory interests

  • Seeking out specific types of sensory input, playing with slime or kinetic sand, exploring lights and shadows, spinning objects

8. Art and music

  • Digital art, sewing, fashion, writing, knitting, carpentry, movies, listening to music, playing an instrument, TV shows, movies, famous musicians, photography

9. Math and science

  • Geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, engineering, numbers, math, measurement, meteorology, logic, specific diseases, anatomy

10. Animals

  • Learning facts about animals, doing animal related activities such as visiting aquariums and bird watching, drawing pictures of animals, making animal sounds, volunteering at pet shelters, pets

11. Nature and plants

  • Gardening, hiking, natural disasters (hurricanes, volcanoes, etc.), types of plants

12. Item/object attachment, toys, and collections

  • Collecting items such as Pokemon cards or rocks or stamps, enjoying figurines or plush toys or certain dolls, special attachment to a particular item or type of object such as specific book or a blanket

13. People

  • Famous/interesting people, presidents, composers, YouTubers, interacting with people online (or offline), groups of people

14. Vehicles and transportation

  • Trains, airplanes, buses, fire trucks, construction vehicles, traffic lights, road signs, ocean liners, car logos

15. Food and drink

  • Baking, cooking, consuming food

16. History and culture

  • Learning about specific time periods, languages, countries and their capitals, flags, Titanic, wars, historical events and their dates

17. Psychology

  • Learning about autism or psychological disorders

18. Construction and LEGO

  • Interest in building things and engineering, carpentry and wood working, building with LEGO

19. Time and dates

  • Interest in timers and watches/clocks, needs to know what time it is at all times, fascinated with calendars and specific dates, likes to know what day it is and what is happening when 

20. Reading, languages, and the written word

  • Reading, learning different languages, making up own languages, alphabet obsession, fascination with fonts

21. Social justice, activism, and advocacy

  • Passionate about autism advocacy and social issues related to gender, race, morals, ethics, etc.

A list of the most common special interest areas for autistic people

Some Final Notes on this List of Autism Special Interest Examples

As you can see, autistic people are into much more than being a human calculator, memorizing train schedules, and rattling off facts about penguins. Their interests are rich and diverse. Some are very niche. Others are more common.

A quote about autistic special interest areas

Also, some interests may or may not fit neatly into these categories, which is why Jordan and Caldwell-Harris (2012) also included an "other" category in their research autistic special interests. So if your child's individual interests (or your own special interests!) don't fit into these categories, that's okay. 

Maybe you think that many of the examples on this list look like simple hobbies and nothing more. But hobbies and special interests aren't the same thing. Keep that in mind.

Hopefully, these autism special interest examples and different interest areas reminded you of how important it is to think beyond the stereotypes of autism. 

Common autism special interest areas & examples