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Adults on the autism spectrum see their interests as possible fields of study and career paths, as well as ways to mitigate anxiety, finds a study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
The findings, published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, continue a shift away from perceiving strong interests as a negative and toward a perspective that recognizes the strengths and potential of these personal pursuits.
Research has shown that people with autism may show intense interest in subjects like science, technology, and art – developing, for instance, a deep knowledge and appreciation of trains, mechanics, animals, or anime and cartoons.
Historically, these “preferred interests” have been negatively perceived and deemed as “restrictive” problems or even obsessions. Some experts have thought that the intensity of the interests may interfere with people on the spectrum’s ability to develop social relationships by limiting their topics of conversation.
However, the field of autism is shifting away from this deficit-focused perspective and is beginning to recognize the benefits of preferred interests. Researchers are now arguing that preferred interests can be strengths and that using these interests, rather than discouraging them, can lead to better outcomes, including increasing attention and engagement and reducing anxiety in individuals with autism.