The Creative Portfolio of Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Learning to Shine on the Spectrum:The Value of Finding Your Special Interest

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Every person has a hobby or something that they feel drawn to and that includes those of us with disabilities. However,for those on the  autism spectrum, understanding and honing what they’re most interested in is not only beneficial but almost essential. Today we’re going to discuss how people on the autism spectrum can benefit and possibly even profit from taking time to discover their special interest.

It can be very easy in our world today to focus on the negatives of being disabled but not everything that stems from having a disability is necessarily a negative. Research studies have for some time linked that mental illness and intellectual disability can also be linked strongly to creativity. Some famous creatives have even been theorized or confirmed to have had some form of these conditions lending to their inspiration for creating in one way or another.

Creativity is often a natural outlet for those suffering from mental illness and other disabilities. It can be a way to vent and express that transforms the often painful struggles of the conditions into something new that reaches others. It is often hard for people to truly communicate how living with disability affects them because not all of us can understand medical terminology or put ourselves in another person’s shoes easily. Once those experiences are translated into something like a painting,poem, or sculpture they can take on a whole new meaning and almost translate the experiences of the disabled person into a more universal language.

The benefits to discovering a creative form of expression are also significant to the disabled person. I know personally it always makes a huge difference for me to write or draw when my disabilities are weighing heavily on my life. It not only allows me to get things out but also relaxes me and helps me refocus my energy. Growing up through high school it actually saved my life to write because I could put what was enticing me to hurt myself into a poem instead of carving it out on my arm.

As an adult I learn more and more every day how important it is to appreciate that we all have unique ways of coping,thinking , and creating. So while you may sometimes be inclined to think sympathetically or condescendingly toward a disabled person because they can’t push papers or climb a corporate ladder like the average person, also consider that the beautiful minds of the disabled community have been filling gallery walls,book pages, and a lot of other contributions to the world you live in for over a century and will probably continue to do so for years to come.

When I began my journey as an adult on the autism spectrum in 2016, I did a lot of personal research because the situation was new to me and a big change to my life. One of the things I discovered was that it was common for people on the spectrum to have a special interest and a lot of the successful adults I was seeing on the spectrum were people who tapped into that and found ways to center it into their lives. But you might wonder how this sort of thing differs from a regular hobby like any of us would have.

The answer lies partially in one of the ways autism manifests in a person. When a person has autism, their brain will quite literally process things differently from what’s known as a neurotypical brain. This includes things like emotions and sensory input but also the trait of being able to fixate very strongly on single tasks of interest to the person. This means that while many autistic people can’t multitask, they can focus well when interested and given the right conditions.

In a business sense, it’s almost sad that many companies can’t see the value in this trait and utilize more people on the spectrum into their workplace efficiently but when we talk about it in a more general sense, it has exponential value. The particular traits associated to autism allow a person to be heavily focused and often detail-oriented which can translate well into a number of inventive fields such as art,engineering, and even information technology.

But even beyond possible translation into one of a number of sought after fields is the value the special interest has to a person on the spectrum. Special interests are sort of like super hobbies so in the same way a neurotypical person feels completed finding a spouse, a person on the spectrum can equate that joy by discovering and getting immersed in a special interest. It not only creates happiness and lessens anxiety, but also gives the person a sense of focus and purpose. For those on the spectrum who have more acute communication deficiencies, special interests can be a way they express themselves and for those with significant issues related to emotional regulation a special interest can allow them to better understand and work through how they feel.

Being on the spectrum will mean that you’ll definitely do things a little bit differently than others and that can be a tough adjustment but before you get frustrated about being different, try embracing it and making it work for you. The same sort of laser focus that makes you distracted from what you need to do sometimes can be turned around and utilized to make you productive at something you love too.

Discovering your special interest is usually not too difficult to do. Often it is something you already gravitate toward or maybe something that you find yourself rambling about often.Special interests will vary because every person on the spectrum is different. It might be something common like writing or art but it can also be something more specific like legos,stamps, or even foreign languages. Whatever your common interest is, make an effort to love it and not judge it. If it makes you feel fulfilled and isn’t dangerous, you should nurture it and not get stuck on how others see it.

Hobbies are subjective things at their best and it’s really the best policy to get over other people approving what makes you happy. The people who want to see the value in you as a person will and the ones that choose not to are the ones missing out. If you like a lot of things, that’s fine too. You can still have a bunch of hobbies in addition to your special interest and you may even discover your interest meshes into other things well. If you’re a younger person on the spectrum, try a lot of different things and broaden your horizon until you find the thing that you just can’t live without and want to learn everything you can about.

Also, keep in mind that your special interest may change as you change as a person or grow into something more over time. That’s okay too. The journey your special interest takes you on is just as important as discovering what it is. Just remember that your love for that interest is part of what makes you who you are and the capacity to love something that much is a passion that is unique to people on the spectrum. Once you take the time to discover your special interest,it can be a bright spot while you deal with some of the more difficult parts of having autism and help you express who you are in a way that only you can.

Our modern society has more ways than ever to channel even the most arcane interest into a marketable product,service or career. This can be great news for a person on the spectrum because with patience, ingenuity, and hard work you can find ways to turn your special interest into at least partial financial support.

As an example, my special interest is character design. I may not be able to hold down an office job like a neurotypical person can, but I can combine my interest with my writing skills and produce a book which can create potential revenue. Some special interests can fit into an available job and some can’t but if you have a very unique special interest you can combine it with other skills to make it marketable.

Finding independence is something that remains a struggle for those in the disabled community but it’s not impossible. Despite the implied stigma in our society that those with autism are less intelligent, this is far from the truth. Many people on the spectrum are bright and creative people with maybe some communication roadblocks here and there so appreciate having a good head on your shoulders and find your own path to creating a future for yourself. You might just barely break even in some cases but don’t be afraid to take some risks and put your special interest to work for you. That feeling of earning even a little bit of money doing something you love despite your disability doesn’t have a price tag on it and it will carry you far and do much more than help pay a bill.

Conclusion

Being on the spectrum means you think, communicate, and create in a unique way and that unique way is definitely awesome and beautiful regardless of what society might be telling you. Special interests are not just hobbies. They are vehicles that those on the autism spectrum can utilize to express themselves and carve out a place in the world. So whether you choose to keep your special interest recreational,use your special interest to show the world who you are, or transition it into a way to support yourself, discovering  and nurturing it could be just the piece you’re missing to living your best life on the spectrum.


Thanks for reading this issue of Thoughts of an Aspie!

Do you agree or disagree with me? What’s the one thing you do that you can’t get enough of? Have you been able to blend what you love doing with a career? Please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment or using the contact form on my site here to reach out to me. Also if you like my work  and would like to see more of it or support it I’d love it if you’d check out my Patreon page or follow me on Facebook or Twitter via @themeinav! Also, Big thanks to Pixabay for the additional images used in today’s article.


 

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