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Special Interests We all have hobbies or interests and sometimes those hobbies become passions depending on how extreme we take them.  In my job working with students with special needs, I am especially drawn to those with autism.  My passion is sharing the lessons they teach me – I share these lessons in my blog at Special-Ism.

Many individuals with Isms have topics that they are VERY passionate about. For some, it starts in their preschool years with Thomas the Train and for others, it grows into quantum physics or astronomy.  Many individuals are so passionate that their actions and verbalizations are almost fully consumed with these topics. Instead of trying to squash these passions into “culturally acceptable” bits of energy, my thought is to channel that passion into age-appropriate learning experiences – turn passions into lessons.

Is a Special Interest Becoming an Obsession Impacting Daily Life?

Turn Passions into Lessons

For simplicity, let’s concentrate on Thomas the Train, who for many young preschoolers becomes a passionate interest. In using a love for Thomas the Train, there are endless learning opportunities to be discovered with just a bit of creativity.

Teach Language

Use Thomas to teach words and create verbal opportunities.  Print out train related pictures and create word cards.  Encourage vocalization of words such as train, conductor, tracks, etc.  Discuss the pictures and ask open ended questions to encourage further verbal engagement.  Get card creation ideas from Ask & Answer “Wh” Questions

Teach Basic & Social Skills

At a young age level, you could take a Candy Land board game and change the cards and pictures on the board to match the Thomas the Train theme. You can print out whatever images you want and simply recreate the theme of that game making it more interesting for your little preschooler.

Candy Land game boards teach the counting of turn taking and peer interaction while teaching basic skills about colors and counting.

Check out Kid Generated Rules for Successful Board Game Play

Expand as They Age

I work with Adult Transition students and have adapted a Candy Land board to reflect the jobs that our students work on weekly (shredding papers, recycling, bagging food, etc.). With my students’ version of the game, it continues to reinforce those social and basic educational skills, while at the same time, keeps their interest.

Further Expansion Ideas

Visit a Place of Passion

In keeping with the Thomas the Train theme,  consider taking your child to the local train depot. If you have an above-the-tracks walking bridge, you could sit with your child and discuss different types of actual trains, count trains or time trains depending on your child’s ability.

Get Visual & Kinesthetic

If your child can’t sit still counting trains, then create a visual scavenger hunt where you can check off things you see at your train station.

Head to the Library

If it is not convenient to visit a train station, check out DVDs or books on trains at your library. One of my daughter’s favorite childhood books was FREIGHT TRAIN by Donald Crews which teaches color, various trains and basic words.

Find the unique situation that works for you and your child.  Expanding upon your child’s special interest will demonstrate that you are interested in their passion – so interested that you are going to help them take it a step further by branching out into other lessons that take their passion into consideration.

So, instead of transitioning from, “Okay, now we are going to do math,” take it to “Now we are going to learn more about ________.”  Fill in the blank with your child’s passion and turn it into lessons that can continue to be tweaked and adjusted to keep these lessons educationally and age appropriate.