January 31, 2019

It can be hard to recognize something as a “special interest” – a passion so strong that it counts as an autistic symptom – if the interest itself doesn’t have a precise label, or if you’ve never learned the label.

Two of my special interests are like that: Phenomenology and storybookishness.

I was surprised when one of my friends introduced me to another friend by saying, “You two will get along great! You’re both super into phenomenology!” I was like, “Wait, I am?” Then I found out that it means noticing and discussing how various experiences feel from the inside – one of my favorite things to think about, and talk about, and write about. But I’d never heard the name, so I hadn’t considered grouping all those thoughts and conversations under one umbrella.

I still don’t have a perfect word for storybookishness. “Tropes” is close – in the sense of TV Tropes, a website that analyzes recurring plot elements in TV shows – but my interest goes beyond plot, to include aesthetics too. In fact, when I tried to plan a mystery dinner party in high school, I was so focused on choosing the costumes, decor, and background music that I never got very far with inventing a plot. What I really wanted was to create a story-like experience. The genre doesn’t even matter much to me, as long as it includes predictable elements of that genre. I loved the movie Shrek for the same reason, because it combined more fairytale elements than I’d ever seen in one place.

I’m sharing these examples because I want to make it easier to recognize special interests, ones that may not fit the mold of a specific hobby or specific media. I believe that what makes an interest “special” is the amount of thought it takes up, as well as the amount of excitement it sparks when you come across it.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.