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Friday 23 February 2024

How my special interest in geography has enhanced my life

“Special interest” refers to the idea that many (but definitely not all!) autistic people often tend to become fixated on a certain topic, and may religiously research it, collect items relating to it or constantly bring up the topic during conversation. Usually, special interests can change over time but in lots of cases, when an autistic person finds a topic that they take a particular interest with, they may appear to “obsess” about it and end up becoming experts on the topic in a short amount of time.

There are no limits to what an autistic person’s “special interest” may be, or that it even must be restricted to just one specific thing. There are interests that are perhaps best described as more common than others, with trains probably becoming the poster child to the point that it’s led to people making assumptions that all autistic people must like trains, but other common ones I've found are certain books, TV shows, or school topics like maths or science.


My own special interest: geography

For me, although I like to believe I have a wide variety of interests that I know plenty about, since I was the age of 11 I've been really fascinated by geography, in particular when it comes to the diversity of our world with different cultures and histories throughout each country. I can name all 197 countries, their capitals, where they are located on a map, their major cities, when they were founded/gained their independence and other facts about them that may seem to most to be unnecessary to have recognised front to back in your brain. It’s a difficult thing to describe but each country is like its own person to me, they have their own unique story, facts about them, and most importantly all of them are different.

While it may seem obsessive to some (and there are certainly times that has been the case) I really think my interest in geography has enhanced my life, not only do I feel like I have a more worldly view on the world (despite the USA being the only country outside of Europe I've been to – although I would love to go to more) but as socialising can be much tougher for autistic people it’s become somewhat of a gateway to integrate myself into social circles, particularly ones where people may have similar interests. It’s become somewhat of a party trick to be able to rattle off any random fact about a country like how there are no doorbells in Paraguay. It is far from the coolest thing to be talking about in order to impress girls but it’s also a unique skill that not many people have and I hope in the future my knowledge of geography will help me not only in the working world but also ignite my passion to travel more and to be able to say I’ve been to some of the places I so often talk about.

As previously mentioned though, there have been times though where it’s gotten me into trouble. I’ve had to learn over time when it’s a reasonable time to start talking about the geo-politics of Botswana, because perhaps unsurprisingly a lot of people find it a bit of an unusual thing to be talking about during a casual conversation. In school, I remember listing down countries on my maths book in class because I just couldn’t focus on anything else, let alone what was being talked about in the lesson. The teacher was definitely not impressed and one day asked me to stay behind to ask why I had wrote down all 54 countries in Africa on my book instead of algebra or whatever I was supposed to be working on, and then asked if I found it more interesting then maths, perhaps unwisely I said yes and that was the end of any positive relationship with that teacher. But for whatever reason I just couldn’t focus or think of anything else in that moment, my mind just slowly drifted away into a place of comfort for me and something I knew. It’s not the best of my traits but I think I’m one of those people where if something doesn’t interest me there’s no way my mind is able to process it no matter how hard I try.


Finding your special interest

If you’re autistic and reading this, please don’t feel any pressure to have a “special interest” if you don’t have one, if you find one that’s great but it’s best you find one naturally rather than forcing yourself to engage with something that you don’t really want to, and it also doesn’t make you any less autistic if you don’t feel you have one!


About the author

Harvey was diagnosed with autism in 2006 at the age of three, he is extremely passionate about campaigning for better autism acceptance across the country, and one day hopes to take his passion to even bigger places, such as on TV. He believes it's important for the nation (and the world!) to have a true understanding of autism, the issues currently affecting autistic people, and how best to solve them in order to make sure the world is a better place for autistic people.