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.
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.
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.
Three of my favourite articles to help you understand autistic passions and ways of communicating:
- Cynthia Kim – An Open Invitation to Infodump
- Erin Human – Infodumping is my Love Language
- Leia Solo – An Insider’s View of Special Interests