The autistic mind is a monotropic mind. We’re pulled strongly towards our interests. Compared to our neurotypical peers, autists have an increased ability to focus on tasks and activities that interest us. Autistic interests, commonly termed special interests, enthusiasms, and passions, differ from neurotypical interests because when autists become interested in something, we tend to learn everything we can about the topic, simultaneously accruing autistic joy and developing expertise.
I know many autists who have turned their passions into careers. Other writers, yes, but also psychologists, academics, software developers, entrepreneurs, HR professionals, musicians, lawyers, scientists. These are examples, not limitations: because our interests are as wide-ranging as those of any other neurotype, autists work in every field.
Autistic interests serve many purposes. Engaging in them strikes me as necessary, as these activities enable us to self-soothe, to regulate our neurological systems, avoiding or alleviating neurological dysregulation: shutdowns, meltdowns. And not only do we develop expertise in areas that lead to careers and self-fulfillment, we also use our skills to advance society, helping others. Engaging in autistic interests also gives autists a sense of control in a confusing, nonsensical society, where life feels very much out of our control.
When I’m reading, for example, nothing seems to exist except the author’s voice and my own inner voice, my thoughts, in conversation with the author’s—life quiets, or disappears altogether, even if I’m in public, outside of my home, where I’m subjected to noise pollution: bright lights, and other painful sensory stimuli. When writing, I similarly disappear into my work, often forgetting where and who I am. My mind energizes, my worries quiet down, and I feel fully myself. I’ve entered hyperfocus.
Once begun, I find often find hyperfocus difficult to stop. Reading and writing are two parts of the same activity for me. To feel well, I need to routinely engage in both. In both activities I routinely hyperfocus, experiencing autistic joy.
Hyperfocus feels like flow, an intense focused state of concentration. Reminds me of hypnosis, a momentary separation from time and self, like zoning out while driving, and ending up at your destination with no remembrance of having driven there. Or when a person zones out while reading or writing text messages, seems to leave the room mid-conversation.