Finding Strength in Special Interests: A New Way to Frame Autism
What are special interests?
- Subjects: Math, transportation schedules, movies
- Objects: Trains, dolls, stuffed animals, puzzles
- Activities: Reading, blowing bubbles, cleaning
How can special interests influence speech?
What is a strength-based approach?
- Spend less time trying to get them to be “normal.” “That’s a losing battle for the rest of your life,” Koenig said. Trying to get people with autism to act in a way that’s unnatural to them can foster feelings of insecurity and isolation. That effort could instead be spent on encouraging others to be more accepting and affirming of each other.
- Be creative. Koenig remembered a client of a colleague who was captivated by the movie Titanic and had trouble acknowledging personal space with his peers. It wasn’t until personal space was put in the context of “Titanic” that things clicked. Saying “watch out for those icebergs” was all it took to connect the dots, and it helped the client navigate social interactions with others.
- Put yourself in their shoes. “If you are deeply interested in something, why wouldn’t you want to talk about it?” Koenig said. Empathy reminds parents and SLPs that everyone has a passion for something, and encouraging those interests – no matter what they are – is an opportunity to connect with each other.