A few weeks ago when I sported my cat ears headband for the first time after buying it, my professor asked, “Why do millenials love cat ears?” I thought about it, and it’s a good question, and a trend that does seem to be on the rise – but not one I can comment on.
I can answer why I’m in love with cat ears, though, and why I would wear them on a headband. It all comes down to special interests, which are perhaps the best (in my opinion) aspect of being autistic, and probably one of my favorite things about life altogether.
Special interests are defined as interests that are usually perservering, meaning they last over a period of time, and are unusual in some way based on either their content or the level of, for lack of a better word, obsession with them. For example, my special interest in cats is unusual because of its content – most people are not as into cats as I am. However, my special interest in reading is unusual only because of the intensity of my interest. Many people like reading. Just not many people love reading to the extreme that I do – to the point where characters from a book crowd their thoughts until they can’t sleep, to the point where they need to take a break from a good break to stim because the excitement of where it’s going is overwhelming.
I have a lot of special interests. Some of them last years, and seem to not be going anywhere – like my interests in writing, reading, fashion, cats, fantasy/supernatural worlds, photography, and architecture. Others seem to be passing from time to time. I may be focused for several weeks on the television series American Horror Story, going as far as to watch episodes multiple times, read fan opinions on the show, create and design graphics from the show, read cast biographies, and write my own opinions and analyses. But it might not stick with me.
It could be a fleeting thing, never to return, or it could come back from time to time. I always consider Harry Potter an intense special interest of mine, for example, but it comes and goes. I wear a silver time turner on my neck from my girlfriend, but I don’t bring up Harry and the gang on a daily basis. If it’s brought to my attention for whatever reason, however, I jump right back into it without stopping. A Harry Potter weekend marathon on ABC Family can do that in seconds.
Special interests keep me going, but they do more for me than provide joy, extreme happiness and wonder. They do a lot for me socially as well. The common stereotype is that autistic people are alienated by their extreme special interests, and the intensity of them. I’m sure we’ve all been caught in a conversation with someone – autistic or NOT – who keeps going on and on about a topic we just don’t know anything about, or even care about. (See: how I feel when my dad talks about sports.) But these interests can bring people together, if you know how to wait and make the discussions happen with people who care about the same things.
I’ve made friends based on a love of writing and reading. Other people who read and write with as much passion as I do can relate, even if they aren’t autistic. They’re just as weird about their hobbies as I am. They think about what characters from a book would do, and spend hours plotting out how their next novel will go. I have a couple of really, really close writer and reader friends. Often, it’s how I get closest to people.
This can happen with other interests, too. There are a whole herd of people out there who are just as angry that Gilmore Girls still hasn’t made a reunion movie, and who can answer the fan trivia as well as I can (you’re looking at the girl who got every single character quote right, and always approaches “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Gilmore Girls” lists with a sigh because, yes, I did know). There are others out there who attended Cassandra Clare’s last book signing over the summer because we were dying to hear her Q&A about the Shadowhunters we love. (In fact, my girlfriend was another in attendance with me.)
But my special interests never made me any success or money, right? I mean, they fulfill me, like an artist with a thrill for painting, but they aren’t worth much.
No, they are. And college is what helped me to realize that.
The first time I remember being recognized for my special interests was when I was around 5. I remember how weird it felt. I was an artist, and a writer. I wrote my own short picture books with illustrations. My mom, my aunts, and all my mom’s friends would gush about how someday, I could be a famous children’s book author. You mean the things I love can be a career? That’s what my parents always taught me.
Still, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it even when the mayor of my town awarded me a citation for writing a book at age 12. I thought to myself, Wow, people like that I can write.
In college, there were new revelations. I remember the way I felt after my freshman composition professor, Joyce Hayden, told me I should really be an English major. That wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but it was the first time in college, a place where I thought I needed “marketable skills.”
What I’ve been realizing over the last few years – since I declared English in my sophomore year after much fear and tribulation – is that I do have marketable skills. Because of my special interests in writing and reading, I’ve become great at writing, and reading comprehension. I’ve become a master at deducting main ideas quickly, and at working in new writing mediums without any training. Because of my special interests in human interaction, I’ve become at ease with interviews, meeting new people, public speaking, and making others feel safe and comfortable with me, all of which are essential in the job market.
I do have marketable skills, I realized. I have skills that my special interests have carefully prodded in me through all these years. People do see me as the “quirky fashionable girl” and come to me for advice with amateur photography, and planning a fashion photo shoot. People follow my fashion blog on Instagram and have recommended my shots to fashion magazines. People have read my writing and recommended me for further positions, where I’ve earned money by freelance writing, writing for magazines, ghostwriting, editing people’s essays and theses, and doing market research.
Special interests, to me, are more than just the passing trend of a pair of wearable cat ears. They’re the things that keep me breathing, and one day, I can bet they’ll also do more than just that.