An integral part of the human experience is having interests – I doubt anybody can dispute that. We develop interests and fixations almost as soon as we’re born and they develop as we grow. However, just like plenty of other things internally and externally, interests and hobbies can come on a lot stronger for those who are neurodivergent.
What is a Hyperfixation?
Hyperfixations are interests that are usually short-term and highly intense. These are commonly associated with ADHD, but anyone can experience hyperfixations. While they can bring a person a lot of joy, they have the potential to overpower basic needs if they get too intense. There are times when people who are hyperfixating can simply forget to eat, use the restroom, sleep, or otherwise take care of themselves. Typically, these interests appear just one at a time as there’s simply not room for more than one. Hyperfixations can come and go and some have even said that their interests have returned to them years after they initially fixated on them.
What is a Special Interest?
Special interests are quite similar to hyperfixations but are considered much more long-term. The intensity of special interests as well as the number varies depending on the person. According to a study done via an online forum for autistic adults, the average amount of special interests that each person reported having was eight (Grove, et al.) Special interests are commonly associated with autism, but again are not necessarily exclusive. These interests can be a subject, an activity, a certain object, a certain food, et cetera. Special interests are not the same as an obsession in OCD where the person feels anxious if they don’t participate in whatever activity they are fixated on.
What Effects Can They Have?
The positive or negative effects of special interests and hyperfixations have been debated for a long time. Some studies say that they impair functioning and communication, while others say they encourage communication and boost confidence. This is really down to personal belief and situation – for myself, I believe it only impairs communication if others refuse to adapt to alternative forms or topics of communication. According to others and in my own experience, special interests and hyperfixations have the potential to provide comfort for those who experience them. They can also encourage social interaction, enthusiasm, and motivation. Interests tend to reflect cognitive strengths – therefore, focusing on these strengths provides an excellent opportunity to boost confidence.
Importance in Engineering and Technology
Neurodivergent people have a great amount of skills to offer the field of science and technology. For example, people with autism often have a higher interest in “systemizable” domains – things like political systems, languages, belief systems, technology, computers, and tons of other areas. This offers a great opportunity for people with these passions to pursue these interests through innovation in STEM. Autistic people also tend to have more specific interests than neurotypical people. This creates an opportunity to develop a high amount of expertise in a specialized area, paving the way for highly skilled engineers, researchers, and more.
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