We Don’t Choose the Enthusiasms; They Choose Us

Obsessions. Fixations. Enthusiasms. 

You’ve probably heard of these or similar terms to describe our autistic characteristic in burrowing into a singular obsession or obsessions, plural. The things that go beyond interest. 

Experts on trains. Lovers of vacuums. Professors of sharks. Memorizers of countries. And that’s usually before pre-school. 

So how do we choose these obsessions?

We don’t.

I wish we could. I’d have loved to have fixated on and explored things like analysis and data science — sure would have helped me these past few years!

My earliest forays were in countries, flags, and capitals, to where I had all of them memorized – before preschool. I don’t remember much of that, but my parents, uncles, grandparents all attested to that prodigious demonstration and lamented not being able to capitalize on that fame it could have brought us. Oh well. 

But the rest spanned the practical to the bizarre: Z-Bots, LEGO bricks, Beanie Babies, camera equipment, game shows – particularly Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Dragon Ball Z, Star Wars, chess, basketball, BattleBots, ambient music, literary criticism, and watches.

That said, there’s a difference between interests and autistic enthusiasms. 

And some of those definitely intersect. For me, I enjoyed collecting LEGOs and Z-Bots – what kid didn’t? 

But for all my interest in cameras, I wasn’t drawn to photography as much as I was makers, specs, formats, cost. Same with chess, I was a terrible player, but to this day I could still name the lineage of World Champions, their playing styles, and pontificate on the historical and developmental aspects of the game.

Star Wars was an interesting one, where I cared less about Sith vs. Jedi and more about amassing intelligence on canon: naming every alien in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, and researching the deep historical fictions behind every place, character, and prop.

It was more about the things themselves than the things themselves.

Still is, though to a lesser degree, with watches. I blame my dad and the Apple Watch for both biting me in this recent kick, where I’m apt to research and dive into the great and rich horological world within worlds.

Today, I have to hold myself back — interests are a gateway to obsessions and fixations that alter our executive function. I know my autistic self better, the perks and the perils.

In a way, it’s bittersweet: I’ve stopped downloading apps, games, and pursuing other ‘interesting’ things knowing that I could get sucked into an obsessive vortex and never emerge. I have to take great care in engaging a passion, unless it’s time-neutral and practical, like baking — I try not to dabble too much, just enough to try something out once in a great while.

If you’ve got kids with their autistic obsessions: embrace them both. Optima dies; prima fugit – the time to pursue an enthusiasm and enjoy it with childlike fervor is a fleeting thing. 



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