In the autistic experience, a special interest refers to something the person is intensely passionate about. Some special interests last a lifetime; others are for a shorter amount of time, phasing between topics.
Anything can be a special interest! They can be more general like vehicles, animals, and space. They can be more specific like the Shrek movies, water parks, and Minecraft. A special interest often contributes to hobbies and careers. Autistic strengths of memory, focus, and passion make them amazing creators and valued employees or bosses. Thinking about their special interests brings an autistic person joy.
So why do speech therapists stop them from talking about special interests?
“They need to talk about other things, not just ____.”
“They need to ask other people questions, not just talk about ____.”
“They need to focus on academics, not just ____.”
Talking about their special interests brings them joy. Joining them in this discussion creates connection and increases trust. We can work on these goals without stifling their joy. They can talk about other things using their special interest as a springboard. They can ask people questions related to their special interest. They can use their special interest as a theme for academics. In fact, we can incorporate special interests into any speech or language goal!
· practice asking and answering WH questions about space
· increase vocabulary while analyzing a busy image from the Shrek movie
· talk about emotions expressed in the Cars movie or an episode of Thomas & Friends
· do articulation drill play by adding water droplets to your water park drawing
· expand utterance length by describing different animals
· practice fluency strategies while talking about Minecraft
Speech therapy is work - hard work! Imagine how much better work would be if you could also do your favourite things! Instead of “that’s enough ___” … try “tell me more."
Written by: Cora Lamers
Registered Speech Language Pathologist