Planes, trains, keys, and lights. There are one thousand different little things that someone with autism can be interested in. However, is there a difference between an interest and a passion? According to Webster’s dictionary, an interest is defined as “a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to an object or class of objects” and a passion is defined as “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction”. Webster shows the difference between the two words, passion is almost uncontrollable it is a conviction. Where as an interest is just merely special attention. This is what autistic children feel when they are passionate about something. However, it is not just a small conviction it is a large conviction. One that they have absolute no control over. Understanding this can help one understand how an autistic person functions.
If we want to get into the physiological side of things. There is actually a neurological reason that autistic people often develop such passions for specific objects, activities, and intellectual learnings. The hippocampus in the brain of many people with autism is much different from that of an average brain. The hippocampus is the center that controls emotion and memory. When you have, a larger hippocampus often times that emotion and memory is changed. In autistic people, this creates the backing for their intense memory. Have you ever met or cared for a person with autism who can tell you how the chemical compound for plastic came about or who was the twenty-fourth president of the United States and you wonder how in the world they remembered that? This is all derives from their hippocampus. Not only do they have the ability to remember larger quantities of information, they almost need to remember it. Their brain is telling them that they should memorize, recite, and learn more about this topic. That is where the conviction comes from for the passions that people with autism have. They do not have a choice in the matter. This does not mean that they do not want to learn about it or be passionate about a topic, it just helps a person caring for autism understand why the intense feelings and the need to say something comes about for people with autism.
This article is titled the patience for their passion. One might be wondering when that might be discussed. To understand why we need to have patience we need to understand where that passion derives from. Often times caring for someone who has autism can be exhausting, frustrating, or scary. Other times it can be incredibly rewarding, refreshing, and joyful. The passion that autistic people have is a care takers key to being able to accomplish daily tasks, weekly goals, and obstacles. Learning to embrace a new passion or one that has never changed can make a world of difference in caring for someone who has autism. How do we accomplish such a task?
As was mentioned above, to achieve the patience needed to keep moving forward, one truly needs to understand where this intense passion for red balls, movie scores, and music is coming from. For some care takers it is understanding that they do not truly have a choice in the matter, for others it is learning how the autistic person is physiologically different. Whatever way that may be for the care taker, understanding the passion is the first step to gaining patience. The next step is to truly embrace the passion. This may seem difficult to even parents who love their children so deeply. However, they may not care at all that the solar system has an abundant of black holes but their child could tell you the exact number and tell you why they exist. Nevertheless, it is greatly important that one embraces these passions. If a care taker, parent, or sibling embraces the passion it creates a bond with the autistic person that you did not have before. This can help the person feel less isolated, not as weird for being so convicted to learn new things about the topic they love, and can be a key to moving forward for an autistic person’s life.
If the care taker understands the passion and embraces it, that is a tool that one now has to help the autistic person succeed in life. There are many stories out there about how an autistic person turned their passion into success. That is because their parents, care takers, and friends all encouraged, embraced, and understood why that passion was so deeply important to them. Now, you may be sitting there wondering how you can turn your child’s passions for colors into a career but one day they may evolve that into graphic design, painting, or maybe even electrical work. Now that those steps have been taken and keeping in mind that this doesn’t happen overnight, we can begin to truly create a patience for their passion. Why do we need to do this though? In creating a patience for their passion, we create a unique tool, a bond, and a gift that one never had before with the autistic person. As someone who cares for people with autism, that natural patience generally already exists. However, as a parent it may be something that you have to dig deep for. Nevertheless, the reward that comes from it is wonderful. Having the new found patience can give one peace when knowing that today they need to accomplish five different tasks but you know that the autistic person is really going to struggle with that. We can harness the energy for their passion and turn it around into ways to help the person accomplish the goals and tasks each and every day. To some that may sound like manipulation, however, what it truly is is using a new tool in your tool box.
Gaining the understanding for the intense conviction that autistic people have for their specific passions may not happen over night, but it is an essential tool to gaining the new found patience. Embracing that passion may be even harder than understanding it, especially when it is something that you have absolute zero interest in it. My nephew loves garbage trucks, to me they are just the thing that picks up trash, but to him, it is the highlight of his day. Learning to embrace his passion for garbage trucks gave me the ability to connect to him on a new level. Once we can connect to the autistic person on a new level, we can unlock that patience. As much as one would like it, this does not happen over night. This is just one more step in the positive direction in caring for someone with autism. Now you have a tool that the therapists, teachers, parents, and care takers all alike can unite together and use it to your advantage to give the autistic person everything they need to be the amazing unique individual that they already are.