People with autism often have “special interests” – topics or activities that they are highly interested in, even obsessive about. These interests can take many forms, but the common theme is the importance these interests have for people with autism.

A recent study published in Autism Research and titled Special Interests and Subjective Wellbeing in Autistic Adults delved into the question of how common these special interests are among adults with autism and what impact special interests have on these people’s lives.

As it turned out, about two-thirds of the adults surveyed had special interests, with men being a little more likely to have special interests than women. The special interests spanned topics ranging from computers to nature and music to gardening. They even included the topic of autism itself! People commonly had more than one special interest.

Neither adults with special interests nor those without special interests reported higher levels of wellbeing on average.

That said, when people did have special interests, being more engaged with their special interests was associated with wellbeing and quality of life in several ways. Those who were more motivated to engage in their special interests reported higher subjective wellbeing. Autistic adults who were more engaged with their special interests also tended to be more satisfied with their social lives and their leisure time.

The exception was people who were far more engaged in special interests than average for adults with autism. Those who were very intensely engaged with their special interests, even by the standards of autistic adults, had lower subjective wellbeing on average.

For the most part, though, the research suggests that for adults with autism, engaging with special interests fosters happiness and mental health. In the words of the researchers, these findings “highlight the important role that special interests play in the lives of autistic adults” and ultimately point to the conclusion that “special interests had a positive impact on autistic adults.”

Image: Flickr/Jo Andy