One super important way to forge connections with autistic people in your life.

Dear friend, teacher, family, and others in my life.

Maybe we haven’t been connecting lately or you’re not really sure where to start. Perhaps friendly words that work with others are not helping build conversations with me. Maybe I’m non-speaking or I’m squealing or scripting or seem terrified of you, and you don’t know how to communicate with me. Perhaps now that you know I’m disabled, you feel like something’s shifted in our relationship.

It’s OK. I know you care. So I’m going to share something important with you about autistic people that will help you be a friend to me, and to other autistics.

A child and cat spending time together by the fireplace.

A child and cat spending time together by the fireplace.

Autistic people love ideas and information and people and animals and objects with intensity. Our passion for our favourite things is a whole-body-whole-mind feels-great experience. It is invigorating, exciting, soothing, numbing, and relaxing for us to engage in our passions. We find beauty in ordinary and surprising places. Our special interests can be our everything, and sharing them with people we love is how we show we care.

I’ll repeat that for emphasis because it’s so important – sharing our passions with the people we love is how we show we care and how we connect with you.

When we discover we share something in common, or we have detailed knowledge of a topic or item, we desperately want to share that with you.

If you would like to forge a deeper connection with an autistic child or adult in your life (like me), then understanding this about us is really important. We need you to be present and interested in our passions. That looks different for each of us but it might include sitting quietly with us and watching while we touch and play with our favourite objects, or listening while we talk in depth about our passion.

Even more exciting is when you show curiosity and thoughtfulness in exploring our passions, out of a desire to genuinely share in that special interest with us. For example, watching or reading more about our passion, asking us questions to learn more, or hunting down new objects and information related to our interest. The word ‘genuine’ is really important here. Your must have a real desire to be engaged in our lives. Becoming curious about our passions is a natural extension of this genuine desire.

Seeds carefully placed in a design – a circle with lines radiating from it, like a sun

You might be thinking ‘OK this is straightforward. Listening, noticing and being curious. This is how I relate to my friends, colleagues and family already’.

Sadly for autistic people, we can come to learn that our passions are too intense, too boring, too unusual, or too much for the people around us.

Despite the widespread belief that we miss social cues, we do notice that our desire to talk, play, live, think, and explore everything about our special interest 24-7 isn’t desirable for others. We are acutely aware when people are feigning interest in our favourite things.

Sometimes we’ve been conditioned not to share our passions as a result of years of being asked to stop talking about our special interests because we’re ‘rude’, ‘exhausting’ or ‘boring’. Sometimes we’re asked to stop playing or doing our special interests because we ‘need broader interests’ or need to ‘learn about other things’ or ‘play like our peers’.  When this has happened to us, we feel anxious or shame about communicating or letting people see our passions.

So please be genuine. First figure out if you actually want a connection with me as I am right now, an autistic person with many other things that make me who I am. If the answer is yes, as I think it is, then know that being in my life means discovering the wonders of my special interests.

I invite you to find out more about the passions of the autistic people in your life. Listen. Watch. Be present and engaged. Get excited. Be curious. Try to tap in to the beautiful, exciting energy our interests unleash.

When you do you’ll experience moments of connection that will blow you away.

Two people are walking holding hands

Two people are walking holding hands

 


Three of my favourite articles to help you understand autistic passions and ways of communicating:

  1. Cynthia Kim – An Open Invitation to Infodump
  2. Erin Human – Infodumping is my Love Language
  3. Leia Solo – An Insider’s View of Special Interests

Briannon is an autistic social worker and parent to three neurodivergent children. She writes about parenting and neurodiversity at respectfullyconnected.com and briannonlee.com 

2 replies
  1. Andy
    Andy says:

    As an autistic person, are you able to connect with your autistic children or other autistic people using this approach when you have no interest in their passion?

    As a parent I have to do this to connect with my autistic children and my non-autistic children. To be frank, this is advice I’ve seen in general parenting articles having nothing to do with neurodiversity. What I have noticed, however, is that the autistic adults in their lives really struggle to do what you advise above and are rarely able to do so. I have seen an autistic parent walk away from his child when the child wanted to so something that he wasn’t prepared to do.

    What advice do you have for an autistic adult or parent who wants to connect with their child, spouse, or friends when they do not share a special interest? I would be particularly curious if you have advised from the male perspective, since I mostly see it happening with the autistic men, and autism in men and women is quite different when it comes to relating.

    Reply
    • Respectfully Connected
      Respectfully Connected says:

      I have seen many parents choose not to, or unable to connect with their children

        regardless of their neurology

      . As a culture, we don’t value children’s voices, interests, concerns, passions, and ideas as much as our colleagues and friends. I can’t speak for everyone but I notice that autistic people of all genders in my personal circles are naturally excellent at delving deep in their kids passions.

      As an autistic parent, I get a great buzz out of curiously digging deep in to my kids passions. We bounce off each other’s excitement for a topic or interest and it feels great. For me it comes from a real interest in knowing mychildren better, but I often find different angles to engage in their interests – eg a child of mine loves My Little Pony which is not a topic I’d naturally like, but I enjoy the music and so we spend a lot of time singing the songs and watching My Little Pony music clips together. One of my kids is in to minecraft but I’m not a huge gamer. Instead I’ve delved deep into knowing more about all of the YouTubers who make lets play videos, finding out who makes the best ones for kids, and learning more about who they are and how they’ve used YouTube to make money, and what motivates them to create content for children. I’ve also learned more about the different gaming platforms, and how the technology underneath those platforms allows the players to interact for cross-platform play, who owns the different platforms, what the politics are behind ownership of different consoles and software and how that all interacts. So basically I take their interests and fold them in to mine in some way starting with my curiosity and seeing where it takes me. Then I can share activities with them, or infodump back at them, and we can bounce off one another.

      This is how I also engage with my autistic friends of all genders. When I hear more about their interests, it often sparks off something that relates to one of my interests and off I go researching or learning more about it but through my own lens. It seems to be how we naturally relate to one another.

      So I guess two things in summary that kind of answer your questions –
      Firstly, to be frank, I don’t think autistic men struggle with this more than other people, I think it is more about how our culture might see parent’s roles and especially men’s roles in relation to their children. It’s a broader cultural shift that has to happen for us to truly value connecting with children and seeing their ideas, interests and beliefs as equally important to the adults in their life.
      And stemming from that, I think we all at times can struggle to find exactly the point of connection with a child’s interests. But if we take a step back and examine our own values about our children and their interests, and we look at our own motivations around building authentic relationships with them, the curiosity naturally flows.

      One final point, which I didn’t put in this post because it was a ‘first steps’ article – I personally think it’s OK to let children and other people in our life know when we don’t have time, or we can’t emotionally be present with them, as that’s as much a part of genuine connection as the being present itself. If our intention is to find and make time and be engaged when we can as much as we can and we aren’t shaming them about their interests or indicating we are bored, displeased or disinterested. Again it’s about the underlying intentions.

      Thanks for commenting, – Bri

      Reply

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