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I’ve had a variety of “special interests” (if you so wish to call it that) over my lifetime. When I was very young, I had a deep love of Greek mythology, inspired by my now well-worn copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I still have fond memories of dragging this enormous volume, comparable to a phone book in my five-year old hands, to the beach with me and reading it in the sunshine on my beach towel. This evolved into a love of astronomy, since I grew interested in the constellations patterned off of the heroes and gods I read about.

I can’t list all of my other special interests, but they’ve ranged from international McDonalds menus to Japanese erotic photography. One of the reasons I have managed to do so well in university is because a brain like mine, which can absorb a great deal on a great deal of topics, is well-suited to a university environment.

That’s why it vexes me when I see parents and guardians of autistic children try to quash a child’s special interest, because they see it as socially/age inappropriate, or too esoteric. I’ve met autism parents who were terrified that their children would miss out on a chance to make friends and enjoy life because they had a “fixation” (their word) on vacuum cleaners, or botany, or different types of cheese (all real examples).

Having oddball interests isn’t going to socially isolate an autistic kid. It makes them come to life, gives them something which makes life interesting and vibrant, and allows them to discover a new world. These are all things that you’ll see come in handy in university. One of the things I love most about university is being surrounded by other people who are infatuated with a particular topic, and have decided to explore it with all of the passion and inspiration they could muster, professors and students alike.

If you ask me, that payoff, as well as a chance at having a lifetime to continue to explore that interest, is worth far more than worrying about whether the kids in elementary school think that you’re weird. I shrug at being teased for my special interests now, they’re giving me more satisfaction than a shallow, self-congratulatory manifestation of peer-belonging ever could.

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