4 Tips for Talking to Autistic People About Their Interests
Are you a parent of a child on the autism spectrum? Are you sick and tired of hearing about Star Wars from your kid? Like, you’re on the verge of tearing your hair out if you have to hear one more thing about that one random dude sitting in the Mos Eisley cantina when Ben and Luke were there making a transportation deal with Han Solo?
Are you in a relationship with someone on the spectrum and you’re trying to figure out how to explain to your significant other that you need a break from hearing about BTS’ concert tours? Do you feel like you could go your whole life without hearing another “fun fact” about the stock market?
As someone on the spectrum myself, I can’t think of a single spectrumite who doesn’t have a hyperfixation of some kind. Marvel, Star Wars, DC, Mortal Kombat (for some reason), real things like the economy, history, and nature. Normally, we call these things obsessions, but the word “obsession” can have such a negative connotation around it and in a lot of cases, it’s not necessarily a bad thing when a spectrumite has a hyperfixation. If I’m honest, it can be healthy for a spectrumite to be hyperfixated on something as long as the hyperfixation is itself healthy.
Spectrumites have an innate ability to escape from reality, and everyone should envy us for it. It gives us knowledge in areas that could one day be very useful to us. It can keep us in somewhat of a state of contentment. It can give us something to look forward to if we don’t have much else to look forward to (do you realize how well Star Wars has been doing that for me lately?)
So if you’re neurotypical and one of your autistic loved ones drives you up a wall with some of their hyperfixations, how do you manage the relationship and keep it stable without you losing your mind? Here are a couple of things to consider:
1. The passions or hyperfixations spectrumites have mean a lot to them.
You may not completely understand it, you might wonder what even the point of it is, but the things they’re into mean a lot to them. It gives them something to stay busy with, it heightens their curiosity about other things associated with it, and it gives them room in life to feel anticipation, excitement, or joy, whether it’s the experience of enjoying their passion or looking forward to experiencing it again.
So many of us are cynical, grumpy, and near nihilistic these days. Spectrumites can find reprieve from reality from time to time with our hyperfixations and the things we generally enjoy. If you make it clear to them that you at least understand that it means something to them, they’ll appreciate that, whether they’re visible about it or not.
2. Spectrumites feel less alone and more loved when they know you’re listening.
You may not always feel like sitting there and hearing a spectrumite explain Batman’s comic book history, but if you dedicate some time just to listen to them, it’ll give them a kind of joy that’s rare for them to feel.
3. Even better than listening is engaging. Ask questions, even if it’s just for elaboration.
Spectrumites may be in a world of their own often, but they still have excellent intuition skills that allow them to figure out whether or not the person they’re talking to is actually interested or at the very least listening. They’ll catch on pretty quickly. That’s why sometimes it’s not enough to just sit there and be able to register each word they’re saying. Ask them follow-up questions, even if it’s just to ask for elaboration on things.
Spectrumites will often tell you about certain things like you already know what they are, but in reality, you’re sitting there thinking, “The Great what? The Council of who?” Ask them for elaboration. It’ll make their day. It expands your knowledge on the subject that you can use later to reengage in a conversation and it helps make the spectrumite feel like you care, because you do!
I know these sound like ridiculously simple methods, but they’re effective and it’s not only a great way to improve your relationships with loved ones who are spectrumites, it helps make the spectrumite feel loved, valued, and listened to. A lot of them spend tons of time alone after all.
Lastly, one thing that’s important to mention is that there’s nothing wrong with politely and respectfully telling your spectrumite loved one after a while that though you’ve enjoyed talking to them about their passion, you’d like to take a break and resume the conversation later. They’ll usually understand well enough and look forward to the next time. Believe me, some of them will probably think ahead on what they’ll want to say next time.
Getty image by gorodenkoff.