Chances are, if you’re neurodivergent or somewhere on the spectrum, your special interests are going to fade.
One day, you discover 1940s swing dancing and absolutely fall in love with it. You do the whole “neurodivergent thing” — read every website you find, borrow all the books from the library, watch hours of videos, and listen to music of the era.
But that’s just amateur-level special interest. When you discover a new special interest, you go all in.
You make a dozen jazz playlists, change your hairstyle to one befitting the time, and order some fancy vintage duds you found online. You sign up for dance classes and even look into how much it costs to build a dance floor in your garage.
A few weeks go by. Friends, family, and coworkers are now well acquainted with your interest in swing dancing.
You happily Lindy hop yourself into work every day, excited about life and your new infatuation.
And then it happens.
You’re sitting in your dentist’s waiting room, listening to Chattanooga Choo Choo on repeat while flipping through a history magazine you found in the rack.
And the thought strikes you, “The Battle of 1812 was a pivotal event in American history. I must learn more.”
And, here we go again.
Even before your beginner swing classes have begun, your super cool clothes have arrived in the mail, and the home improvement contractor has given you an estimate, you’re blindsided by a new interest.
That’s how it works.
We stumble through life going from interest to interest and too often from fixation to fixation.
If you’re on the spectrum, you may know what having special interests and hyperfixations is like. Not everyone has them, but they can take over your life if you do.
Special interests are highly intensive levels of interest in particular topics we have throughout our lives. They are common among neurodiverse people, especially in autism and ADHD. Hyperfixations are similar to special interests but more focused and usually not as long-lasting.
One day, the interest is there; the next, it’s gone. Something new has crept in and replaced it.
When we get fixated, we immerse ourselves in it. We want to share this great new thing we found with everyone we encounter — whether they want to hear it or not.
You may deem every aspect of 19th-century U.S. foreign policy fascinating, but the rest of the world doesn’t find it as riveting to hear you recount the Embargo Act of 1807 in detail on your lunch break.
But this new information is so exciting to us, we have to let it out.
You may have your special interest for three weeks, six months, or a year. Or, maybe it’ll ebb and flow but stay with you for a lifetime. We don’t know.
It’s part of our special interest roulette.
What’s our next new interest going to be? And how long will it last?
We’re lucky to have fewer lifelong interests that never leave us.
Why is that better?
- They’re less expensive. I have boxes of items I’ve acquired over the years, from screen-printing equipment to art supplies to my dice collection. You have to feel as if you’re part of it. And the credit card charges prove it.
- You’re more likely to get the “not this again” eye roll from people when you steer the conversation to your latest and greatest preoccupation.
- New special interests take up more of your time, at least initially. I can barely think of anything else when a new special interest grabs me. I‘ll give up sleep and every second of my free time for my new interest.
- It’s possible to turn it into a side hustle or a career. Coding, crafts, writing, or almost any interest you can hold on to can become a money-maker.
If it doesn’t last, we can get very down on ourselves.
We feel bad because we’ve given so much of ourselves to something that doesn’t have a spark anymore. It can feel like we’re lazy or we failed because we’ve lost interest.
So what do you do when it’s gone? You take what you’ve gained and move on.
- You now have extensive knowledge about a subject you didn’t know — and no one else probably knows either.
- You’ve learned related subjects in depth. You were fixated on 1940s swing dancing, and now you know about music, politics, art, and fashion from that era. With each new interest, your knowledge accumulates.
- It calmed your anxiety and made you happy. Positive vibes are always a good thing.
- You learned new skills you could use in the future. You planned to start your own swing dancing blog and now know how to build a website.
- It’s personal growth. You pushed yourself outside your comfort zone. Maybe you’d never in a million years considered dancing in front of strangers, but your special interest compelled you.
- You learned something new about your community. Who knew your local recreation center offered dance classes?
- You met new people through it. You find dance partners or an entire dance crew, which can lead to new friends or further networking.
So, celebrate the randomness of your special interests and hyperfixations. Today, it could be carnivorous houseplants, and next month, collecting pizza boxes. We never know, but we shouldn’t neglect any opportunity to gain more knowledge.
But, set a budget for it because it might not last.