What I really appreciate about autism, amongst other things, are the specific interests of people with autism. As a mother of several autistic children I can tell you from experience that this is already visible from a very young age…., however it can take different forms throughout the years. It will actually take a different form throughout the years, because they will develop themselves and their fascinations.
My husband and I often thought that we should do something to ‘point them in the right direction’ and that we should give the child a balanced selection of experiences. In retrospect however, also looking at my own life, I’m glad that I mostly just stimulated the interests.
My own life is characterised by many fascinations. Obsessive, fanatical, you can name it whatever… If I did something, I would go for it for 300%. People with autism can hold a very strong focus to learn or do whatever it is that they’ve set their eye on. Driven by a strong intention from within. And this is exactly the reason that I, with the consciousness that I have now, understand how important it is to stimulate this interest instead of levelling it out and spreading it into a broader interest…
My daughter would never take any friends home to play with… The only thing she did was drawing. Drawing, drawing, drawing. Of course we were worried about her social development and we didn’t know about autism at that time. But she was unstoppable. She just had to draw. Last week she got admitted into the Academy of Arts as a 16 year-old. (see above for an assignment)
My son got into lego and the Rubik Cube at a very young age and would only draw mazes at school. Of course I sometimes thought: ‘Is this okay psychologically? Later, he started to become interested in the mechanisms that are used to lock wooden boxes. And now… he started getting into forging, next to his education to become a carpenter. He is a builder. He makes artistic style mechanics for wooden furniture. How wonderful is that?! Day and night you can find him in the shed. Practising, practising, practising. Even better, even more detailed, even more advanced.
Why do I tell you this? Because there are many pioneers among autistic people,. New thinkers. People that devote their lives to one single subject and go deeply into that. They go beyond current discoveries. Further, deeper, more detailed. There is so much quality and intelligence in people with autism.
And it is a shame that we suppress this at a young age… uh correction – we try to suppress it. Because at school you are supposed to be at least average in all your school subjects. Autistic people don’t want to broaden their interests, they want to deepen them. They have something unique to offer to the world and need space and time to develop on that narrow line of their interest.
A lot of children and adolescents with autism have problems with the (illogical) rules of society. Most non-autistic adults are used to those rules and follow them. This can make it quite difficult when your child doesn’t want to join into the socially prescribed pattern…or even isn’t able to. Please trust the inner guidance of your child as well.
Everyone knows the feeling… when we feel that intrinsic motivation, we are unstoppable. This is what you want to stimulate. And in autism, this is a very narrow area. In my life, I would always link everything to my area of interest. Everything I did, read or heard, I would internally link to my area of interest. This made it easier for me to do different things. If it isn’t meaningful in an autistic person’s eyes, it is agony to do it. ‘Meaningful and practical’ are the driving forces, and not ‘because it’s socially accepted’, ‘because you should’ or ‘to be well-behaving’.
It isn’t immediately clear for a young autistic child what it is that he/she has to do here and to develop, but every choice made from interest and fascination is a step on the path of fine-tuning. My wish is for parents to stop worrying about this and start giving the space and the means to the autistic child so it can develop and deepen itself into its interests.
Notice the interest, but above all: let them find and give an indication of their own way. I once made the mistake of sending them to a teacher (a musical teacher in this case). But autistic people are often autodidacts. They want to find their own way. Or at least choose their own teachers. And this is exactly where their strength lies… Our strength ;-)