Autism In Real Life

Episode 20: A conversation with Dr. Tony Attwood on Special Interests

September 08, 2020 Ilia Walsh, Executive Director of The Spectrum Strategy Group Season 1 Episode 20
Autism In Real Life
Episode 20: A conversation with Dr. Tony Attwood on Special Interests
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Tony and I have an in depth conversation on how special interests can impact the lives of those with autism. We talk about the impact on behavior, emotional regulation, relationships, anxiety, education, employment and so much more!!

Professor Tony Attwood PhD is an internationally recognised clinical psychologist, educator, and author.  Recently featured on ABC’s Australian Story, Tony is one of the world’s foremost authorities on autism.  His book Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals is an international bestseller and seminal in the field.

Attwood & Garnett Events
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Hello, and welcome to the autism in real life podcast. In each episode, you'll get practical strategies by taking a journey into the joys and challenges of life with autism. I'm your host, Ilia Walsh, and I'm an educator and a parent of two young adults, one of which is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Join me as I share my experience and the experiences of others, so that we may see the unique gifts and talents of individuals on the autism spectrum, fully recognized. Hello, everyone, and welcome. I'm really excited today to be able to connect with Dr. Tony Atwood. I know we've connected before, you had spoken many times at a&e where I was working in the past. And I'm very happy to have you here. So welcome.

Thank you, Elliot. I'm delighted and you've asked me to talk about a topic that I find absolutely fascinating, enjoyable. And I have learned a lot from those with autism, about dinosaurs and drain covers in their special interest.

And I'm very excited to talk about that. And people always learn so much from your talks. I know I've learned so much. Many people are often moved by some of your, you know, presentations and conferences. I know, someone that I work with, who was many people leave in tears, sometimes with some of your presentations because they resonate so deeply with some of the things you talk about. But I know today I'm excited to talk about this topic, because this is like super fun. And I really, I'm excited by it as well. But before we kind of go down that path, would you be able to just give a little bit of background about yourself for those who may not be familiar with your work and are new to this autism world. Okay,

I began when I was 19 years old, first year psychology student and went to a special school I met two classically autistic children way back in 1971. So next year, we'll be aldia 50 years. Good heavens, it's gone so quickly. And so I've spent my life really understanding and supporting people, as we now say, on the spectrum when I began, all we knew is classic autism have very high support needs. And it now goes through to professors who use their special interest, and people actually pay them for their specialist knowledge. So I work as a clinician, I'm actually an adjunct professor. And I still at the age of 68, specialize in seeing clients, some of whom I've seen for over 30 years. I also have autism in the family. I have a son on the spectrum and other relatives as well.

Oh, wow. Okay, well, great. Thank you so much. And so why don't we get into it? Let's get talking about special interests and why? You know, I think the biggest thing is, and I know you've talked about this before about but how did you come to create a whole talk just around special interests, it's one of your topic lists, you know,

because it is such a central part of autism. And it can be an advantage, it can be a disadvantage, the advantage is that when I'm seeing somebody for a diagnostic assessment, and they're very reluctant to engage, and you can say, I don't want to be here. Then when I say, I understand that you're interested in snakes Tell me, what's your favorite snake? Or why is it your favorite snake, the person is transformed, they become another character. And when they're engaged in the special interest, it's almost as though the social difficulties have gone. There's enthusiasm, enjoyment and delight. It's like the on button that can occur. It's also something that the person needs in their life. And throughout this podcast, one of things I want to go through is why is the special interest so important for those with autism?

Right now, I think you you hit it right on the head, I think it helps with engagement. It helps with building rapport. And And honestly, I learned so much when I work with people and find out what their special interests, especially young children, it's really fun when they talk about what they're passionate about, and just like all of us, right when we talk about what we're passionate about, we kind of light up and I find that

you know, really exciting. Yeah, it is it's what I call the silver lining. In many ways. There are many challenges being bullied and teased being overwhelmed by sensory experiences. And so life has a lot of challenges. But the great thrill and it is a thrill for those on the spectrum is the special interest. Now the trouble is, it can be such a thrill and have many functions, the risk, is it becoming too dominant in that person's life, to reach a clinical significance, not just enjoyment, but it becomes beyond an obsession. And in a way, it moves into an addiction.

Oh, interesting, because I was going to ask you about that one of the things that I know I've thought about, and oftentimes when working with educators, you know, we talk about special interests and using it in the way we've talked about so far, which is, you know, to build rapport and to engage and use as incentive. However, you know, sometimes the feedback and pushback that I'll get is no, but they just kind of, you know, the student will get lost in it, and I won't be able to bring them back or, you know, they're going to just want more and more time. And so then it becomes something that takes away from what they're doing. And, you know, the the original intended purpose of the special interest. So I'm glad that you're bringing that up. But I think we need to explore that further. Yeah, absolutely. So So when we talk about special interests, and again, you know, I know we're diving in here, but let's take a step back and and talk about what does that look like? So when you're looking at either a younger child or young adult into adulthood, what kind of things are we talking about? Like, what is this whole concept of special interest in general? Yep, this

seems to be sort of a developmental sequence. The first stage is really collecting objects. And finding the presence of those objects actually very enjoyable, and comforting. A typical child will like a teddy bear, because it's soft and squishy, and reminds them of Mum, that could be very comforting. But here, it's it's an a delight with a pepper grinder, because of the smoothness of the surface. Or its pebbles and gems that seem absolutely absorbing in their sensory qualities and the person with the objects which are often lined up, put in order. And there's a fascination with symmetry. And that's a major theme in the interest is symmetrical schemes, cataloguing, knowing all the information and so on. So first of all, it's a collection of an unusual object that if it disappears, that absolutely devastated or when they have a meltdown, affection, consoling distraction doesn't work. But as soon as you return the Thomas, the Tank Engine, everything, so k again. So it starts off with an object, then it's a concept often transport, it can be from trains, helicopters, all sorts of anything that gets me out of here. It can be alternative worlds dinosaurs, no school, no people, there's always an emotional, and almost symbolic component of the interest. But again, we'll explore that later. But it's a theme that they're interested in. Now, it may be what other kids are interested in, but Pokemon or whatever. But they take it to a level where it dominates their life much more than typical and kids. Typical kids can be very flexible and do a range of interests. Here, there's a fascination with this topic that they read almost every dinosaur book that they can find, all they want to talk about is dinosaurs, and they learned Latin to speak is that they all they know the capitals of every country in the world and their flags and things like that. And so it moves into a stage of information on a topic. And as the person develops, it may be every Beatles record that they can find. And it seems that you've got to catalog it, order it, structure it, it has, again, many functions. But then in the teenage years and beyond. It can actually be a person, and it's called stalking. And here the someone, whether they are fictitious or real is they can be in the media, or they can be in their personal life. And so there's a fascination with an individual. So there seems to be a developmental sequence.

I see. Okay. And so if we're looking at you, we're talking about early on with the collection of unusual objects. And you know, in some cases, I would say, let's say teddy bears or Thomas the Tank Engine, or dinosaurs don't seem that unusual for a younger child, let's say three to seven or eight or whatever. But so what would where would it switch to saying, Oh, well, this is more than just a typical type of interest and fascination.

It's in a way, it's that or nothing else. And there isn't the diversity of interests. And once engaged in the interest, this is where we look at one of the functions of the special interests. And that is as a thought blocker, or to enter an alternative, well, if you're highly anxious, sometimes if you're depressed, but if you're anxious and overwhelmed, then the special interest is a blocker to anxious or depressive thoughts. And so for that individual, there is then a degree of compulsion, and when thwarted from access to that become extremely distressed. So, for a typical kid, if mom says, Okay, time stop Minecraft now, it's lunchtime. And the kid was like, oh, okay, lunchtime, that's fine. But the child with autism say, No, no, I've got, I've got to finish the game. In other words, there's a compulsion for completion, that the activity overrides any social commitment.

Right. And, you know, it's interesting, as you say, that I think there are so many people who, you know, may or may not be on spectrum who sometimes fall into this. And I think the piece that you hit on is sort of that soothing effect that a special interest can have with anxiety and depression.

And this is where it can overstep the line with computer games and so on, that it starts off as a natural talent and, and usually, the special interest is based on emotions, and a value in emotion, regulation and expression. But it also gives you a sense of self worth status, and with computer games, now, a social network. But when you're on the computer, you don't have autism, you don't have to read facial expressions, you don't have to talk about pleasantries and people's experiences and disclose your own thoughts and feelings, you've got an objective. And so often in the team games on the computer, the person with autism is valued, because they are very good at the game naturally, but also their intuitive knowledge. And it seems to be there's an intuitive talent in this particular area that boosts self esteem. So if you're not good social, if you're not good at sport, then your knowledge in that topic impresses other people is not patronizing. People go, Wow, you're drawing of a horse. That's amazing. And they know it is because they've seen other six year olds drawings of horses, and it's nothing but data. So give you a sense of self worth, by identity. It's a source of pleasure in a life that they have few pleasures, it's a means of relaxation, and you enter an alternative world where you may not have autism.

Right. And and I think also you brought up as we move into the teen and young adult years, you were talking about things where there are no people, I think you said dinosaurs and other sorts of activities. And I missing the second piece, but where there's, you know, where it's sort of like an alternate reality.

It is if you if you're not valued by your peers, in fact, you're bullied and teased, rejected and humiliated. Then you think, Okay, well, there must be a world science fiction, Star Wars, Hogwarts. dinosaurs. And so one of the things that can occur in autism, we tend to say, Oh, yes, they read books on technology and information. No, not always. Sometimes it's reading and writing fiction, to create in science fiction, an alternative world where I'm valued, where I'm understood, where I'm in control. And so they person in having their nose in a book also shuts out other people. And that's often what you want to do, but it's a socially acceptable characteristic. And I saw this week, a teenager, and we talked about meeting up with our friends at lunchtime said, No, no, no, I go to the library. Why? Because I like books. And I solved them. I give books links, a beautiful description. And so you, you then find the talent in that area for someone for whom they are usually considered as under par in many areas, but this they are demonstrably a talent. But that's what we need in society. Most of the major advances in science and arts are made by people on the spectrum. And I just read a biography of Beethoven. Beethoven was prodigy, and so a lot of people wrote about him as a child. But when you look at it through the lens of autism, you say, Oh, yes, he was on the spectrum. But what happened to a great extent with Beethoven, his sense of self, was expressed in his music. And this is where in autism, we have a new exploration, and what's called Alexey sinemia. And that is a difficulty converting thoughts and feelings to speech, what are you feeling now, I don't know. What they're saying is, I don't know how to grasp one of the many thoughts and feelings in my mind, hold it, identified by and explain it in speech to you. But they can do it in the arts, they will write a song, they will create a drawing. And this is where some with autism go into the arts for a variety of reasons. But to express themselves, they are fantastic. The guitar players is one of the most self stimulatory repetitive behavior is the guitar. So all they need a sense of rhythm isn't bouncing on the trampoline, or horse riding on a swing, and now they are playing the drums in a rock band. And that's rhythm. So it gives you an opportunity to express yourself not only for enjoyment, but it allows you to explore and explain the real you.

Right, right now, I think that's and also the ability you'd mentioned, you know, that the advances in the arts and sciences are really and even someone who's just takes their interest in vacuums, for example, and makes that a career. It's this intense focus, and, you know, ability to understand and put it together when it's something that from my experience, and when it's something that they're super, you know, passionate about. It's amazing how much knowledge can be remembered and put together and like you said, you know, sorting and organizing and being able to then convey what they're thinking through that particular interest. It is fascinating.

It is an we're actually going to benefit from it in the next few months or years. With COVID-19, the chances are that the vaccine will be discovered by someone on the spectrum. And they like an enjoy the world of viruses and viruses are their friends. And as far as they're concerned, the world of viruses, that miniature microscopic world is so fascinating to view and explore that well, they will have an ability to perceive the problem of creating the vaccine, like no one else, and will be very grateful for them in doing that. Hey, there, this

is Ellie again. And I hope you're enjoying this episode, I just wanted to take a moment and let you know that in addition to bringing you great interviews and content here on the autism and real life podcast, I also offer online courses, workshops, and customized coaching. So if you're a family member, and educator or a part of an organization looking for support or autism education, I would love to work with you to help meet your specific needs, check out my website at the spectrum strategy comm or email me at Ilia. I LIA at the spectrum strategy You can also message me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. So I look forward to hearing from you take care.

And so you know, as we're talking about, you know, when we talk about indulging and let's say, yeah, let's use the term indulging in the special interest to obsessively. You know, we want to create some balance here, I think what what are some of the what are some of the negative, you know, aspects of over indulging in a special interest

that there isn't a diversity and there's extreme distress when thwarted when you're very anxious, you're looking for ways of blocking the anxiety. And when somebody says Nope, you can't do the computer, you can't look at your dinosaur books. That's frustration that you cannot alleviate your anxiety. And that frustration leads to anger. And then the child can learn to use what I call emotional blackmail and become a domestic terrorist in terms of demanding access to the special interest for the many reasons that it's so enjoyable. So it can lead to controlling behaviors. It can lead to a level of engagement, that means that the person has effectively become a recluse. And they're not socializing, they're not going to various places. And that's gone over the boundary of in some times, rather than calling a special interest, we'll call it pleasures, what your pleasures are. And in a way, sometimes the pleasure is so enjoyable. It's like heroin or morphine, it gives an alternative state of reality and well being that is such a contrast to ordinary life, that you become addicted to it. And that's what I think a lot of teenagers and young adults with autism are experiencing is the potential as the first generation that has so much access to the amazing computer games. They are addicted. And this is where the computer games manufacturers actually employ people from the gambling industry to make the games addictive. And it's successful.

Yes, it is. Absolutely. And I think you know, it when you're saying that it's making me think of this time right now that we have all been in, you know, lockdown, semi lockdown. And, you know, many people, especially young people are home, and can't go out the way they would normally go out or meet friends or engage in other activities. And so, you know, we're all kind of a little trapped right now, but, but particularly makes me think of if you have a lack of diversity of ways to kind of relieve stress, it makes it super challenging right now.

It is and the other functions of the special interests. The special interest, yes, it's a thought blocker, but it's also an energizer. And it gives you a thrill and energy. So if you're depressed, and there are many reasons why someone with autism will be depressed, but one is energy depletion, from trying to manage your anxiety at school coping with the sensory and the social. And so you have been mentally drained throughout the school day. And when you get home, you want a quick fix in inverted commas, you want a quick infusion of energy. And that's what the game does. And that's why it is so sort of positively reinforcing, because it ends an unpleasant draining feeling. And it gives you energy. And that's another reason why it can have such a powerful influence in your life. Sure,

now that that makes, that definitely makes sense. And so, but let's, let's come back to all the positives, because I think special interests really do have such a great place in people's lives. I've often talked to parents too. And you know, and educators who are in a very stressful place, oftentimes saying, you know, you need to find things that bring you pleasure and bring you joy. And so that way you can help de stress, right. So I think, to your point, these are why people engage in these types of activities. And so, you know, I think special interests hold up a place in, you know, being able to self regulate, and being able to find joy and pleasure in activities.

And my personal view, clinically, is that the special interest should be woven into the curriculum, because if you're doing a reading program, the other kids are interested in whatever these kids are doing in their stories, but the kid with autism is, I don't care. I'm not interested in what they're doing. But if this is a story about dinosaurs, or Thomas, the Tank Engine, you've got motivation. And one of the major problems in the classroom for autism is motivation. They're not motivated to please the teacher, impress the other kids, all those sorts of things. It's something I want to do because of the intrinsic enjoyment in what I'm doing. So a flexible teacher will be able to not count blocks, it's counting how many Thomas engines are in this picture of what everything does, once you say, Thomas the Tank Engine or whatever, is you've got the interest. So please read it in or when you've done this activity, you will be free to discover volcanoes, but we must wait until you've done the activity, then you're free to do volcanoes.

Right. Right. And that's, that's the those are sort of the strategies I talked to educators about. And one thing I sort of generally mentioned, and this is really more from my own personal experience, but you know, correct me if I'm wrong, but oftentimes I've told educators, special interests are great as motivators. Um, but please don't use them as you know, negative consequences. So don't take, right tail don't take it away, because it's such an important part of their lives that it's okay to use it as a motivator, but not as you know, a negative consequence.

Earlier, you are so right. That's not punishment, that's revenge. You've accepted me. And I go, no upset you in a way that I know really hurts you. And so it is not appropriate. Because if it is there, blocking of anxiety, if it's an energizer when you're depressed, what are the parents and teachers going to give to replace the missing interest? And you're going to give them an alternative, otherwise, you're going to get somebody who's going to become increasingly volatile and worse in that setting? Because if you say, right, no computer tonight, I don't care. Well, okay, no computer for a week, I still don't care. Well, no computer for a month are scored. Okay. Right. You'll never ever have your computer again.

Right, right. And that's not ever gonna really fully come to fruition anyway. No, we

do confrontation in autism. It won't work. What you have to do, if I am saying, okay, and I have to with teenagers, I say, look, Please be honest here. How many hours a day school day and weekend do you spend on the computer, and I make sure parents aren't there. And I need to know that. What I need to do is use logic. And I have to explain World Health Organization, posture, Park conditions by side, all those sorts of things. I've got a list of reasons to explain the logic of why reducing now Okay, you're on the computer six hours a day, right? Let's see if we can do five hours, 45 minutes. Okay, just a 15 minute less. And there's a prize. If you do that, right? You're now five hours, 45 let's see if we can do five hours 30 will never go below two to three hours that sacrosanct that's there for you that will always be there. But beyond that, is a level of psychological and medical concern. And that's why we're having to put a restriction on this.

And I think you raise a really good point in this strategy of giving all of the evidence, I would call it as to why, you know, let's say, too much computer use, you know, we know has these negative, this negative impact on our bodies or our mind or whatever, I think having to come up with very strategic evidence that you find, because I find I know, again, just from personal experience, you know, if I just say, well, it's not good for you, it's like, well, show me the evidence that is not good for me. Where did you hear that? Where did you read that? Right? So I think it's, it shows that you're really taking an interest. And that you're, you're not like just making it up because you just don't want them on the computer. Right? But basically, you're showing your caring not being mean. Mm hmm. Right. Right. Yeah, yeah, no, that's important. And so, in thinking about special interests, I think we were talking about how you move through the the teenage, young adult phase, if we move into the adult phase, does this look a little bit different? Because I think I'm thinking of people that I've worked with, and, you know, there's sort of maybe multiple special interests Yeah, where you have like one that's, you know, for free time, and then perhaps, you know, your work environment, something like that,

you do, you do get a wider range. Each interest has a used by date. And that may be hours or days. The replacement can always be chosen by the person. Okay. Now, for example, it sometimes the interest is to explore an emotional theme, that you have difficulty disclosing in speech and conversation, for example, you may have somebody who's bullied and teased, and I know what to talk about to mom, because she'd only worry about me, I got to sort it out myself, and I can't report it, because it's worse at school to to report it than then cope with it. And, and, and so the way they explore it is by switching the interest to examples of Hollywood retribution movies, where they identify with a central character who's beaten up by the gangsters or Russian, whatever it is, and so on. And they identify with that character, and they're trying to explore it through television. So I want to know, there's something about this sometimes it's it's escape, okay? In which case, what is it about reality that you have difficulty coping with? We need to work on that. It can be in many ways, not only just bullying and teasing, we had one child who was very close to his grandfather, his grandfather was a farmer. And they used to go around the farm together and have great time. But unfortunately, the farmer had a heart attack with his grandson with him and died. And his way of grieving was to take a special interest in heart disease, because he wanted to know why. Okay, because it was his way of coping with the grief, his knowledge. Now, for example, Liliana had a fear of spiders. And whenever she's oppressed by this, he ran, but not to her mother for comfort, but to the bookshelves to read about spiders, knowledge overcomes fear. And the more she read about spiders, the more she admired them, and collected them, or fear of the noise of a thunderstorm, they lead to a special interest in the weather system, and how they occur. So sometimes the interest is to understand and resolve a personal issue. Wow, I mean, how creative and intense that is, right? It is, but this is why I admire people with autism is if you have difficulty disclosing alexithymia your feelings and thoughts to other people, and their way of dealing with it have affection, it is not a hug, it's a squeeze. And why squeezing Manhattan squeezing this off the problem. You use your intellect because that's what you've got. And that's why in autism, the worst insult is to be called stupid. Because if you're not good socially, and you're not good at sport, but one thing you've got is your intellect. So if I'm using a motivation system, it may be that it incorporates the interest or are saying, Wow, that shows how intelligent you are. That was the wise choice, I appeal to their need for confirmation of their intellect and thinking. But this means that the predators spot that the one thing you fear is making a mistake, because it really hurts your self esteem. Right? I'm going to tease you about making mistakes. And then the kid in the teenage years goes by I made a mistake there, right? I am stupid, and they start to take on board, the derogatory comments, etc. So the special interest gives me an insight into the inner world of the autistic person.

Wow. Yeah, I mean, it's I had not thought of it that way before. But as you're saying, and I'm actually thinking about, like, I'm getting flooded with all different ideas and examples, and I'm particularly struck, I was actually reading, I'm in a Facebook group, you know, moms group, and I was reading a pet, you know, a couple of parents frustrated with their younger children tantruming and biting and you know, hitting, and both happened to be nonverbal. And they said something to the effect of it's, you know, there seems to be coming out of nowhere, and another parent says, it's usually not out of nowhere, it and to what you're saying, it would be, you know, not only do you know what you're feeling, but you might not have the words to put to it. And even if you could think them, you may not be able to express them. And so the amount of frustration, right, and anger and all that can become so overwhelming that you have no other way to express yourself, but by lashing out then, right? Yeah,

that's what I say, We're gonna do a translation here, we got to go a bit deeper. What is it that is upsetting the individual. And in some ways, they can't express what they're feeling. And parents are often very keen on calming that person down. And they say, I can't use the special interest because that's rewarding, inappropriate behavior. And I say, No, you need to do that because it's the off switch. And it's the only off switch you got. It's not rewarding, inappropriate behavior. It's the off switch. Now that can occur in a tantrum, but also depression attack. And those with autism are very prone to intense despair, especially when getting insight into their challenges and they really does affect them. Sometimes we need something that is a complete distraction for the moment. So if you are in a crisis Please use the special interest as a thought blocker as an off switch for the distress.

Right. You know, and I think this is why this topic of special interest is so important, because I think, too that, you know, to the point of a educator saying, you know, I, but you know, can't I take it away? And I would say no. And it's really lack of understanding of how important these interests are, and not really understanding how fundamental they are to like the person's feeling of safety on a day to day basis. And so, you know, I think that's, that's to really understand how special interests are integrated in someone's life, you know, you would then know, to not take it away, right? Like, I think you would know that Oh, wow. Right. I really shouldn't do that, because I'm going to put this person in distress.

Yes. It's like saying to the teacher, okay. Well, the teachers aren't right. I'm going to punish you. I'm going to take away your glasses. Right, you wouldn't punish the child by taking away their glasses.

Example? Yeah, that's a great example. Mm hmm. So you know, I think, as we as we move into, like, the adult phase, when we're talking about picking something I don't know, like, if I'm looking at what can I do? If I'm working with an adult, let's say, and there's multiple special interests? And you talked about, you know, they all have, you know, a use by date. How can you, you know, I guess, support someone in figuring out what the I you said, it's determined by them, but helping them kind of, and maybe I'm asking the wrong question, but helping them find things that are helpful, like, maybe some people aren't sure what's helpful, or maybe it's, maybe it's just not even for me to help with I don't even know,

okay, now, there are those with autism who grow up, get married, or live together, they have kids. And part of my work is yes, early diagnosis and early intervention. It's also relationship counseling, where one partner is on the spectrum. And this is where, in the early stages in the relationship, they often neurotypical wife was his interest in trains, it's so endearing. He's, he's really into his, into his childhood. And it's isn't it brave for him to do that 10 years later, his bloody trains, he spends more time on his trains than anybody in the family to death of his bloody train. We're poor, because he's just bought a new engine. And this is where you then have to look at it in a family under relationship. But when the person comes home from work, they're exhausted, and they need to be re energized. But talking about work, affection, consolation doesn't work. But what does work is the computer game. And then resenting that when the person comes home, they don't engage. They're off on the computer, discovering things about the pyramids, or whatever it is that they may do. Because information is comforting, it's stable, it builds self esteem and knowledge and so on. And so the person is seeking that, but it's a solitary pursuit and men, one of the many things about the interest is they are chosen not to fit in with a peer group. They're chosen because the person finds them interesting. And so when you have a relationship, it can either disrupt the whole setting, or in an employment setting, it can actually be an advantage where the person becomes an expert, for example, Temple Grandin, and her knowledge of cattle and cattle feedlots, and so on, she's developed a career on her expertise in animals and understanding the world from a cow cattles point of view. And that degree of determination despite the adversity of the industry, and to eventually be applauded for what she can do, I'm amazed. She's an amazing woman. But that shows you how the interest can be of great advantage to society, but maybe difficult for the family to live

right? by it. And, you know, I'm thinking that same example where, you know, the person comes home from work and then just wants to kind of decompress and does, you know, some research and kind of sits off also by themselves from their perspective. I mean, and I think I can resonate with this a little bit more. So you've spent the whole day being on and talking to people and working in whatever the setting is that you're in. But oftentimes, we kind of have to put on that, right like the the mask of being at work, and that persona, and then when you come home, you feel safe, and you want to kind of let all that go. And I find that with students to when they go home, sometimes they kind of let it all go after being at, you know, in their school or at work all day. And so to then engage again, is ask actually asking a lot.

It is. And that's why in the relationship counseling, I say, look, we're gonna look at a compromise, when your husband gets home, half an hour, on the computer, okay, we'll set the timer because when you're involved in the special interest, time disappears. And so when the buzzer goes, you need to reengage, you've been engaged, all day connected all day, you can have a break, but you then have to return. And then once that there is a compromise, then it's better for all parties concerned.

Right? Now that that makes sense. And, again, it's important to understand all of these subtleties, because on the surface, when we look at these sort of encounters, or these particular events, they appear different on the outside, but what's actually happening on the inside can be so different.

It is and what the person may be doing is to to a great extent, engaging in the the interest, which has a greater priority to other commitments, and in a family or relationship, there can be an envy of the delight. I've had young kids typical kids saying, I think dad loves his computer more than me.

Right. Right. Yeah. And that sounds so heartbreaking to hear it that way. Right? And that's not really what was happening at all.

No, but the thing is, then, then the dad said, but of course, I love you. And then the chair will say, Well, how do I know? Well, I do. Why, why would I need to tell you what, you know? Why would I need to remind you have you forgotten? Have you got Alzheimer's? So it can be not recognizing neurotypicals needs in that setting? As an adult.

Right. So again, that comes back to like this really open and frank kind of conversations about, you know, what, each each member of a relationship, regardless of kind of the type of relationship, what do we need to feel like we're connected and to feel like we're being heard and all of those things, and those

with autism say, in return, you're obsessed with socializing. You just seem to want to talk and socialize all the time. That's your special interest.

Right. Now, I mean, you mentioned Temple Grandin. And I think she's a great example, of course of taking a special special interest and also just her way of looking at the world and making it into a career again, you know, we would, we would look at and say that is a pretty unusual career, maybe not where she comes from and her background, but but looking at it as a type of career would be like how that's really specialized and very unique in its, you know, just by its design, but it's she made that work for her. And I know, oftentimes, we'll talk about using a special interest as something that can be for a career. But do you find that that happens? Often? I know I even I even talk about it when I when I work with educators are doing transition planning. But do you find that that is that does actually happen a lot.

It does happen as a career. But there's a dimension that I would like to address in this podcast. And that is that the teenager with autism may not be included in the development of romance, and sexuality. They are often not included and when their peer group are constantly talking about how far they've gone in a relationship and how great it is. And this person is hardly got a friend, let alone beyond friendship, but they have the sexual response. And so, in their exploration of sexuality, they will use the computer to explore sexuality and that leads to pornography. And if pornography becomes a special interest, there's a determination to explore. Like, Beatles records, every obscure Beatles record To explore all the dimensions of pornography, which includes illegal and they're on their own, they think that okay, there's no crime involved here. But there is. And so I have a number of clients who have been charged with the offense of possession of child pornography. They're not pedophiles, they are not interested in an intimate sexual relationship with a child at all. But they were curious. Their view was, I wanted to make my own decision. I want you to see for myself, what it was like, Oh, no, I'd never do that with a child. But I was curious to know, why am I not allowed to see it? What's so bad about it? So their intellectual curiosity overrode any knowledge of the boundaries. And then, of course, the police, quite rightly, are on the doorways to the sites, they get the IP address, the FBI raids, the house, takes the computer finds child pornography, and there's a minimum five year sentence. So there are interests that can go to a level of criminal concern. Yeah.

It's funny, you bring that up? Because I actually did a podcast with Isabel annelle. So that will have it. Yeah, that'll be coming up in the future. But it's, it's great to hear you talk about that. So we're really thinking about, you know, and I could think, not just in, in pornography, but also expanded to interest in, you know, maybe firearms, or we could go down, you know, in bomb making, right? Like, there's so many different things, and really coming from this curiosity place, and just wanting to explore what is all the taboo around these particular topics, and there is a danger of being recruited by extremist organizations. There. Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. And so So yeah, I mean, we would, you know, we want to make sure we know what those red flags are, as parents or possibly educators, if we're seeing something in the classroom. But I think a lot of times this falls into right where, where there's, there is no more supervision. They're adults, and they're doing their own thing. And so, but something definitely to raise awareness around. And I know there are a lot of people doing work around, you know, on the legal side, having a better understanding of this type of thinking, and it not going into better understanding that the intent was not criminal, although sometimes the law doesn't always understand that, right. And I have to write reports on the individual and the unfortunate consequences of a custodial sentence of being in prison, because prison is the worst environment you could ever design for someone who's autistic. Yeah. And so, you know, I think that is another piece that we have to keep in mind. And, you know, as I was saying, with the career using special interest as a career opportunity, is that something that we should as, as educators, and parents, encourage, you know, if we, if we think that that's something that is a, you know, healthy and can actually be a way for them to be self sustaining, and I use that caution, but you know, what I mean,

career in many ways, I, I describe universities, as sheltered workshops, for the socially challenged. And the university is the cathedral for the worship of knowledge. And so some go to university where they're actually paid to pursue medieval church architecture. And so it may well find that in an academic environment, where your intellect and knowledge is valued, then that can be your successful career, but they may never leave University, but it may be in Microsoft, or in a legal firm, where they have a way of problem solving, when we have the phrase, to think outside the box. And autistic person says, What box and so aren't there. They will go away, they'll go for a walk, they'll go into the mountains for a week, and on their own in nature, will suddenly come across a solution to the problem on their own, and then come back and everyone will say, Wow, we never thought of it that way. That is what we need. But it's a solitary pursuit. So often the mechanisms as a characteristic waters and being a systematize, that you're looking for systems. In fact, you're looking at systems socially, and you observe, analyze and imitate and one of the characteristics of autism is faking it, and that's why some are diagnosed till they're adult Because they camouflage their autism by learning how to act, bureau typical. So sometimes the the diagnosis is made later on with someone with an illustrious career. I saw somebody recently who was a judge under renowned. But there was complaints because he was very critical of counsel who weren't good enough, and would tell them that in front of their client in court, because they started complaining, when he keeps criticizing us, yes, because you're crap, you're no good. But he can't say that in court, but you are. And what I call self appointed revealer of the truth. So those sorts of things can occur. But the thing is, if you've got a talent, people will tolerate you. And that was the case with with Beethoven, not a nice guy. He's actually incredibly volatile and incredibly critical. The same way with Mozart, he used to criticize the aristocracy for that musicianship, when you shouldn't do that, because they pay you, you don't get royalties, but the prince pays him. And when you say to the prince, after a recital, now, that was crap, that wasn't good enough, you're not gonna get any more. So you got to, to a certain extent, because you're good. People will tolerate some of the social challenges because you're needed in the organization. So there can be other advantages. And this is where some companies now are deliberately choosing to recruit people on the spectrum, because of their attention to detail, originality, and problem solving, determination to pursue the project to the end, they don't go to work to socialize, they go to work to achieve. Oh, that's

awesome. I like the way that you said that. And I think, actually, with that, I think we could probably talk about this topic for probably like a whole day conference or something. But I think that is a great way to end because I think if we look at it through that lens, we can really think about how we can leverage the strengths of those on spectrum for you know, all different types of projects, all different types of work, and, you know, be able to just make it seriously a more neuro diverse, you know, type of team.

Yes, I think this is when we need diversity, and not to fear someone who's different because they may bring qualities into your personal life, but also to your work life and family life. That absolutely you will benefit from.

Well, thank you so much. This has been a lot. You know, we've talked about so many things. And we touched on so many other topics to which I know you could totally go off on and hopefully we can connect again at some point in the future. That would be great.

Okay, yes, I delighted earlier because the topic that you've chosen is one that I like to talk about more because people say can you talk about behavior management? Can you talk about diagnosis, and I go, Yeah, but when you say special Empress all Yes, please. Yes, please.

Yeah. That's great. That's great. Okay, well, if people wanted to find out more about you, and all of the great resources that you have to offer, are you have lots of books, lots of tools, lots of instruments, have lots of videos, like all sorts of things, where can they find you? Okay, two sources, I

would say. Jessica, Kingsley publishers, ww A lot of my programs, books, etc, are published by jkp. Also with a friend and colleague, Michelle Garnica, fellow clinical psychologist, we have created what's called Atwood and Garnett unguarded, t AR n e w e at an unguarded And we through COVID-19 have been producing a number of webcasts, our presentations, where previously I would travel all over the world and people would get a chance to see me, well, he still can. But if you go to add what and Garner you can download four and five or six hour presentations on many different topics. You can rent them for them.

Right I did see that it seems really easy to access and very intuitive and lots of great topics there as well. So cool, and I will put all of that information in this podcast description so people have it easily available to them. Access. Okay, thank you any it's been a lovely session. Yes, it has. Thank you so much and you have a great day. Thanks for listening to autism in real life. This is Ilia Walsh and if you like the show, please hit subscribe so you can get notified each time a new episode is released. Also, if you join our email list at the spectrum strategy comm you can get a code to attend one of my online courses for free. See you next time.

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