Many autistic individuals, throughout the course of their lives—though especially in childhood—have a singular passion that captivates them. This passion is more than a mere hobby, more than a mere interest, more than a pastime or diversion. This passion is the focus of captivation and affection, of time and love and energy. In autistic jargon, it is known as a Special Interest. Capital “S.” Capital “I.”

Dropping the capital letters for a moment, a special interest is some singular interest that an autistic individual focuses their attention on to an extreme degree. This interest may take the form of any topic under the sun. It might be something general, like art or music or sports. Or it might be something particular, like the royal family of Saudi Arabia or words that begin with “Q.” Regardless, a special interest is one that an autistic individual fixates on. If the interest is academic, the autistic person might learn everything they can about the topic. If the interest is of a more physical nature, the autistic person might do whatever it is that interests them all the time, perhaps for hours every day. The special interest often (but not always) takes away time from other interests, and the autistic person’s worldview and experiences are often based around their special interest.

 For a group of individuals constantly overwhelmed by their surroundings, having a special interest serves as a grounding point for autistic people. When navigating the strata of society, or wending their way through school or work or home environments, an autistic person may depend on their special interest as a constant. As something that makes sense.

     When I was younger, my special interest was dinosaurs. I loved dinosaurs. I loved dinosaurs a lot. I learned about dinosaurs whenever and however I could. I memorized their scientific names, and words associated with them, and the men and women who discovered them. It was difficult at the time for me to talk about anything but dinosaurs. This also came at a time in my life when social interaction was very difficult for me. I had very few friends and was often in trouble at school due to misunderstandings or lack of communication with classmates. I cried often and was overwhelmed even more, as the world was a confusing place that I did not feel I fit into. But dinosaurs made sense. A carnivore was a carnivore, a triceratops was a triceratops—those words did not change their meanings depending on circumstance. They remained constantly (and comfortingly) solid and understandable, even when things happening around me weren’t.

At the time I did not view my special interest as a refuge, and in a way I still don’t. My special interest right now is mathematics, and while I am not as singularly focused on math as I once was on dinosaurs, I still find myself spending hours of my time working on math, just because I love to learn about it. While I do not use math as an escape from anything, it is comforting that math, like dinosaurs, doesn’t change very quickly. Both are too old for that.