Identifying and Valuing Personal Passions
You will recall that one of the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's Syndrome is “unusually intense preoccupation with one or more stereotyped interests.” As previously discussed, this sets a negative precedent in how your child's interests are perceived. The use of words like “preoccupation,” “fixation,” and “obsession” are not helpful in everyday life. They imply that such passionate interests are socially inappropriate, inappropriate to one's chronological age, or a hindrance with no real value or purpose. But why are neurotypical people allowed to have hobbies while those with differences are deemed “obsessed”?
What we know to be true of most children with Asperger's is that they have an absolute fascination with certain subject or topic areas and have become expert in their knowledge. The world's most advanced thinkers, talented artists, and brilliant inventors propelled whole cultures with their astounding expertise. As an advocate for your child, you will wish to vanquish “obsessive-compulsive” stereotypes and promote acceptance of his passions in just this manner.
Identifying your child's passion or passions shouldn't be difficult. His passions are those things that — more than anything else — he loves to:
Sing about or create musical interpretations of
Create models or other three-dimensional replicas of
Take copious notes about
Re-enact or personify
Watch on television
Research at the library or on the Internet
Your child's passion may correlate directly to an academic area of school in which he excels such as mathematics, physics, or music. He may also indulge his passion through extracurricular classes or clubs, or after-school or weekend activities. He may “set you up” with questions in which he grills you for answers that only he may know, and then feign disbelief that you don't provide the very complex, intricate correct response. (If you've been through this drill before, your child may even become perturbed that, by now, you haven't memorized the appropriate answer in order to “play along.”) It may be easy to become annoyed or distracted by your child's focus or to fall victim to the idea that it represents “abnormal” behavior. It will be important for you to learn that your child's passions are an amazing strength to be recognized and validated.
The passions of some children with Asperger's have included:
Wheels or other parts of automobiles, trains, trucks, tractors, and planes
Oceanography and specific marine life species
Astronomy, planets, and constellations
Cartoon animation and comics
Music, especially classical music
The animal kingdom, including specific creatures such as horses, reptiles, and insects
Architecture, including churches and cathedrals
The human body and how it works
Specific movies such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Wizard of Oz
Specific famous people such as prominent scientists and researchers, actors and comedians, or religious figures
It may be easy for you to become weary or even fed up with listening to your child discuss his passions. If this describes you, try thinking of all that outpouring of “stuff” as communication. One divorced dad keeps current with his son's interest in heavy metal bands so that the time they share is made that much more memorable for both because of the in-depth conversations they have.
This list is by no means all-inclusive; the variety of potential passions is endless. At every opportunity, you can find your child steeped in his passion — it's what he wants as gifts for birthdays and holidays or what he enjoys talking about with visiting relatives. You may be astounded at the depth of detail with which your child can conjure up information at will and without effort. He could spend hours absorbed in his most passionate interests, to the point where you might have to insist he take periodic breaks.
Above all else, though, you must understand that your child's personality — his entire identity — is defined by his passions; the two are that closely aligned. How you receive and accept your child's passions will directly affect the quality of your parent-child relationship. You may demonstrate that you value your child's passion by:
Acknowledging it as a good thing
Acknowledging that it is a communication
Acknowledging its importance to your child
Making time, wherever possible, to interact with your child (looking and listening) about his passion
Asking probing questions so that you may learn more
Asking probing questions designed to get your child thinking and imagining possibilities related to his passion
Suggesting ways your child may introduce family and friends to his passion
Partnering with your child to research facets of his passion
Participating in out-of-house opportunities you or your child arranges that involve his passion
One mom historically dismissed her son's “ramblings” about the nuances of building construction until she understood about passions. She decided to ask him questions about his current topic of discussion (concrete versus cement — who knew there was a distinction?) and, for the first time ever, they enjoyed a ten-minute dialogue they otherwise never would have had (even though the boy's intonation was in imitation of a documentary narrator!). At the conclusion of her tutorial, her son exuberantly asked his mom for a huge hug, and a new beginning occurred for their parent-child relationship. Now that's a reward!