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Autistic Special Interests Vs Hobbies

Autistic Special Interests Vs Hobbies

If someone asked me what my hobbies were the answer would always be the same.

But, If someone asked me what my special interest was it would change.

One of my hobbies is reading. The day I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was the day my special interest changed to the Bronte Sisters.

Reading would always be a hobby but the Brontes would be the obsession … until something else stole my heart.


The definition of a hobby according to the online Oxford Dictionary is:

“An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”

Some examples of hobbies are:

  • Sports
  • Board Games
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Baking
  • Travelling

I’m sure most people have at least one hobby.

Autistic Special Interests Vs Hobbies

Special Interests

If we look at the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 for special interests it says:

“Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).”

I translate that to say:

A very limited, obsessive, extreme, engrossed, non-typical interest

So you should be able to see the difference between a hobby and a special interest right there. A hobby isn’t a very limited, obsessive, extreme, engrossed, non-typical interest. However, a special interest could be some of the things we typically class as hobbies.

Autistic Special Interests Vs Hobbies


Lots of people take up hobbies for a social connection. It is often a way to meet people or something to talk about when you’re low on small talk.

Most autistic people don’t like small talk.

and some of us really struggle with social connection and communication.

That doesn’t mean that autistic people won’t take up hobbies to try and meet people and make friends … some will.

Hobbies are generally something mainstream where special interests can often be based around something more obscure.

Again that doesn’t mean that autistic people’s special interests won’t be mainstream.

More About The Brontes

I said earlier that one of my hobbies is reading and that the day I started reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

my special interest in The Brontes began.

When I finished Jane Eyre I downloaded the other books by the Bronte Sisters and watched the TV & Film adaptions of the books. Engrossed I learned about their lives. When and where they were born, where they lived, what they did, how they spent their time, what their stories were based on, and when they died. Obsessed I bought Bronte memorabilia and I went on a mini-break to Yorkshire to visit the Bronte Parsonage. Imaging myself walking the moors with them and visiting the places that I had read about in the book ‘Charlotte Bronte’s A Life’. Annoyingly I talked to anyone who would listen (or pretend to listen) to me about them.

It was an obsession, a passion and it was intense.

It was a very limited, obsessive, extreme, engrossed, non-typical interest.

When it was over I didn’t know what to do. I felt so empty. So lost. I cried. It’s like you are breaking up with someone and your heart is being broken.

How Special Interests Can Affect Your Life

Autism Special Interests

When you are engrossed in a special interest you can forget about the rest of the world. People always say when toddlers are being potty trained that they “had an accident because they were engrossed in something”. That’s exactly the same for us. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, don’t go to the toilet, don’t shower or keep up with personal hygiene. miss appointments, forget to do important things …

Special Interests can be so many things including other people!

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