Credit: Jane Turner, freelance writer
Date: September 7, 2018

When kids with ASD develop a keen interest in one particular subject or hobby, parents can worry that it might isolate them from others, potentially leading to ostracism and, sometimes, even bullying. A fascinating study by researchers at the University of California – Santa Barbara has found, however, that these specific interests can actually be a strength, helping children forge stronger friendships. In this post we highlight the importance of encouraging, and even expanding the subject or activity your child most loves.

How Can Interests Boost Communication?

The study mentioned above, published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, found that keen interests can boost communication with others. The researchers stated that “by involving themselves in an activity around the interest, they not only make friends but also become valued members of the group. Their specialized skill becomes a strength.” The researchers gave the sample of a student with ASD who was very knowledgeable in the area of computer graphics. They created a graphic design club, finding that because most of the students lacked the knowledge of the student with ASD, the latter became a source of help and information. In this manner, integration and conversation were enhanced.

Providing the Right Tools

Parents can encourage their child’s interests by providing them with the training, equipment, and technology they need. In this day of ubiquitous connectivity, utilizing touch screen devices, digital cameras and smartphones can help children access and utilize apps for information, editing, and presentation. These gadgets can be used for additional purposes; apps such as MySocius, for instance, use naturalistic teaching methods to boost effective communication. As such, they can be used as a subtle way to expand and introduce new materials to children that can aid in areas such as social interaction and speech.

Painting an Interesting World

To encourage children to develop additional hobbies and to find fascinating in the world around them, it is vital to take things slowly and to comprehend their tendency to veer towards their area of interest. Rather than battling the latter, why not expand upon it? For instance, if your child is into outer space, why not purchase books with astronauts or scientists as its protagonists? Or visit a space museum or take part in a camp focusing on aeronautical subjects? By breaking down a subject into sub-categories and showing your child how each piece fits into the puzzle, you might spark an interest in a related yet distinct field.

Reinforcement and Turn Taking

When engaging your child in a new interest, you can try combining something she does not immediately take to, with something she loves. For instance, if she loves spinning toys, you might opt for a book that has a feature you can spin. If she loves music and dance, you might dance while singing to her about various topics such as dinosaurs, stars, or the world around her. You might also like to practice taking turns with activities; if your child does not enjoy the new activity you have introduced, continue with the activity for a few minutes on your own, allowing your child to watch you enjoy. This way, you can pique her interest gently.

Getting your child interested in new things is important because these interests promote communication, encourage them to ask you for things, and provide common ground with others. It is always important to foster your child’s passion, remembering that it can play a key role in connection with others. Taking turns, finding sub-categories your child might naturally take to, and slowly introducing new interests can work well to reduce stress and boost the fun factor of the plethora of hobbies enjoyed by people of all ages.