Autistic Pride Day is on June 18th. Every year, it is observed around the world to raise awareness of Autism. “Autistic pride” refers to a shift in perceptions of autism from “illness” to “diversity”. In this blog, we trace the history of this observance. We also discuss the concept of special interests in detail.
History of Autistic Pride Day
Autistic Pride Day was first celebrated in 2005 by AFF (Aspies For Freedom), an organization dedicated to raising awareness of Autism. An infinity symbol in rainbow colors is the symbol for Autistic Pride. It represents “diversity with infinite variations and infinite possibilities”.
In a speech at London’s Hyde Park, Joseph Redford, an organizer for Autistic Pride, emphasized that the concept of autistic pride is not about a particular day or event. As stated “For individuals, Autistic Pride doesn’t necessarily need to take the form of public events. The organizer of Inverness Autistic Pride, Kabie Brook, told me that she celebrated Autistic Pride day by taking a walk in the park with her family. And enjoying herself. Openly stimming, or vocalizing or expressing yourself in your own body language is an example of Autistic Pride in Action”
Special Interests in Autism
Repetitive behaviors and special interests are two significant features of autism. It is very common for autistic individuals of all ages to have special interests. People often assume that autistic individuals have a lower interest in socializing. As a result, they seek out other activities. These passions can be narrowed down to certain topics, subjects, and hobbies.
Special interests vary from person to person. Some examples of special interests are
- Collecting postcards or toys
- Listening to or playing music in a repetitive manner
- Focusing deeply on a narrow subject such as mid-12th century Cistercian monasteries.
Fascinating isn’t it? In the eye of autistic individuals, they are deeply passionate about their interests and consider their interests to be stress relievers.
Building Literacy Beyond Passion
Researchers are looking deeper into these special interests. They are researching how these intense interests shape the minds of autistic individuals. Further, work is being done to understand how it benefits their well-being and helps them to learn.
Children frequently excel in areas where they have a strong interest. Hence, it is important to build on their interests and strengths. Further, incorporating these skills to help them develop in other areas is a great strategy to help them thrive. For example, if a child is repeatedly drawing a house, encourage them to extend their abilities in other artwork rather than discouraging the behavior.
Whether it be in music, science, or painting – parents and caregivers should discover and nurture their children’s strengths!
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Special interests might appear out of nowhere! In fact, they can linger on for weeks, months, or even years at a time. One thing is certain: when one interest fades, another emerges to take its place. This might take up more time in their everyday activities.
Hence, it is important to set boundaries. Parents or caregivers can set a time and make it rewarding for the individual. Similarly, the special interest can be made a part of their unique learning process and included into their academic curriculum.
Conclusion: To Each Their Own
John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated, “If this is their natural motivating capacity, then rather than try to suppress it, it might be more helpful to the child to build on it.”
Autistic individuals value their special interests above other activities. It could be one special interest or multiple interests, but it is considered highly important. It is vital to equally value their interests and not infantilize them. Doing so would only discourage their abilities and freedom of expression.
A special interest can be a valuable identifier for an individual on the autism spectrum. Most times, it is also a strong mental health aid. In an often stressful and uncertain environment, focusing on a special interest can bring much-needed balance and, a sense of peace.
It is only right if we can be supportive in helping them find calm in the midst of chaos.