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special-interestsThis title may seem abstract to you, but by this one question my life was changed.

School, for me, was tough; even more so as I have Asperger Syndrome, but I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 20. Of course, all the signs were there, but no one knew what to make of it.

Special Interests
As with many people on the spectrum, I had my special interests. In my book, [easyazon-link asin=”0399537333″ locale=”us”]Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger’s Syndrome[/easyazon-link], I explain that these special interests are “Kansas” and I ask, “Where would you want to live if you were paralyzed in any state except Kansas?

You see, when we are within our interests our minds don’t have to over process to make sense of the world. Often times we know all the facts there are to know, so we are never caught off guard by a question.

How Others React to Special Interests
My “Kansas” was auto racing and at every recess in 1st grade my teacher would hear a 30 minute monologue of racing talk. Eventually she said, “Aaron, if you don’t go play with the other kids right now you are never going to recess again!” Obviously she wasn’t a race fan.

In 2nd grade the same behaviors were there, but my 2nd grade teacher took a radically different approach to dealing with me. Instead of appeasing me by just listening and then snapping and making that threat, she used my already existing interest to make conversation. She wasn’t a race fan, but she was listening to what I was saying and on one week she said, “Okay Aaron, where is Formula 1 racing this weekend?” I simply stated, “Silverstone” and then she came back with, “Aaron, where is Silverstone?

I hesitated, and was deep in thought. I knew all the track names by heart and the drivers and the teams, but never once did it occur to me to think of the places they raced. My world was very narrow, and after about a dozen seconds I looked at her and stated, almost in the form of a question, “England?” Immediately she came back with, “Where is that?” And I, without hesitation, said, “Where is that?

Using Special Interests to Expand Your Child’s Interests
From that moment on I have had a deep love of learning about new places and cultures. In my speaking career I have found that this story that happened to me has played out many times in others. What some, like my 1st grade teacher may have found annoying, my 2nd grade teacher used it as a way to connect with me and to springboard into other interests.

In my concept of Kansas, I truly state that one is almost, if not metaphorically, paralyzed by leaving Kansas. With that being so, we can’t simply lift a person out of Kansas and put them into another state. Instead, if we can expand the borders of Kansas, the gain, as proven by my own experience in 2nd grade, is gigantic.

I love being able to speak at schools to teachers on this concept because every teacher usually can remember a student like me. Parents too can relate to this and instead of trying everything in the world to forcible change the subject, if possible, use the existing interest to expand outward.

One thing though; I work at TouchPoint Autism Services and we use the saying all the time that, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism.” That is very relevant with this because this isn’t going to work with everyone. However, when it does, the borders of Kansas get blown wide open. To you, the question of where the race track Silverstone is located may never cross your mind again, but for me, each time I hear that track name, I secretly thank my 2nd grade teacher for opening my eyes up to the world.