When Special Interests Are Inappropriate

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Children with Asperger's syndrome (AS) frequently have a fixation, or special interest. Your child might be fascinated with trains, dolls or something more obscure, such as washing machines. He may spend an extensive amount of time learning, reading, studying about this interest. A special interest is often compared to a hobby but there is often a much more intense focus on the object in Aspies. While you may see this obsession as unhealthy, special interests serve a number of purposes in Aspies.


    The special interest provides:

    • Relaxation and enjoyment
    • Order and consistency
    • Compensation for lack of social skills
    • Conversation
    • An escape from a world they don't understand
    • A sense of identity

    While these special interests are often mainstream interests, such as trains, it is the intensity of the interest that sets your child apart from other children.

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    However, there are times when a special interest is inappropriate or misunderstood by friends, teachers and other people outside the family structure. For example, imagine a child with an intense focus on weapons. He may want to learn everything about different weapons, searching for information on the history, the mechanics and how the weapon is used. Schoolmates and teachers see an obsession on weapons as an indication of violence and be scared of your child. Friends may wonder why you allow your child to focus so intently on something that could hurt other people. But your child may simply want to know about different weapons, what makes one better than another, how different weapons have been used during different periods in history, how weapons are made. The interest could be innocent but "outsiders" see it as an indication of your child's personality.


    Many parents of Aspies will tell you that trying to discourage or eliminate a special interest is difficult, if not impossible. Your child needs this interest and when you take it away you might see an increase in meltdowns, he may sneak in order to interact with his interest or you may notice that your child loses other skills because he doesn't have the outlet he needs to learn about the world around him. So what is a parent supposed to do when their child develops a fascination with weapons, pornography or some other inappropriate object.

    Monitor what your child is exposed to. Take the time to preview or pre-read what your child is asking for. You can limit the amount and type of material your child sees or reads without taking away the special interest. Using the example of weapons, you might want to search the library for information on the history of a particular weapon, such as swords, focusing on "history" instead of "swords."


    Learn about your child's interest. Often, parents see the negative of an intense focus rather than understanding why their child is fascinated. Talk to your child about his interest, ask questions and listen closely to the answers. Why is he interested in guns? Does he want to know more about how they are made, what makes one different than another or learning about the different uses for each? Understanding the specifics of your child's interest can help you focus the interest in a more productive way.


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    Guide the interest to a more appropriate interest. If your child is interested in how weapons have been used throughout history, gently guide him to learn about things relating to his interest rather than the inappropriate interest. Using weapons again as an example, guide your child to focus more on history and introduce what types of lifestyles would require weapons, how weapons are used for hunting as opposed to warfare, etc.


    Limit the times your child can interact with his special interest. If trying to guide your child to a more appropriate interest doesn't work, talk to him about when, where and with whom he can talk about the interest. Explain that talking about weapons at school can be easily misconstrued and scare classmates and teachers. Provide access but only in limited circumstances.



Published On: January 11, 2012