Can I start this with an apology; it wasn't my intention to write a "Me Me Me" post at all, but after a few attempts to write a less personalised post, I lost everything I wanted to say.
I want to get across how important special interests are, but I can't possibly write about others' interests and do them justice.
The sky is my passion. I have other interests, but for the last few years, the sky in different manifestations has been the main one. Stars, birds of prey and now clouds. All of which have led to other interests.
I'll start with stars. As a child we lived in a beautiful house in the middle of countryside. I would spend hours looking at stars, without really knowing what I was looking for, just enjoying picking out familiar patterns, looking forward to winter when Orion would be in our skies once more, using The Plough to find the North Star, enjoying the sensation of being outside and all dark and quiet.
More recently, my love of stars has led me to discover Messier objects - a list of 110 objects in the sky that are not comets. There are galaxies (I find it mind blowing that it's possible to see other galaxies in our universe!), nebulae, star clusters and more.
In turn this has led to a fascination in telescopes and how they work, and bemusement at some of the logical names of some of the largest telescopes in the world - VLT = Very Large Telescope, ELT = Extremely Large Telescope.
Clouds have been a slow burning interest. I didn't realise how intense an interest it was until I saw that my cloud photo collection was standing at over 700 photos, and these are the ones special enough to have made the final cut. I estimate that, including the ones that didn't make the grade, I must have taken and studied nearly 3,000 photos.
The thing that separates out a special interest from any other interests is the intensity, and how it makes me feel.
When there's a beautiful sunset, driving up to the moors with my camera, my infernal, internal dialogue is switched off, i can utterly focus on the changing sky, and the images I wish to capture. I become me.
With my special interest I leave my dull, brown chrysalis, and become something with endless potential, the world is my oyster. I can be anything and anyone I want to be. I feel enthusiastic, excited about the future. I am energised. I can feel something inside me desperately trying to break out.
Seeing beautiful skies outside and not being able to get to them upsets me, I feel trapped and frustrated. I feel irritable and unable to settle to anything.
My interests make me a better person. If only I could make a living out of pootling around the countryside taking photos of lovely clouds!
When we were going through the assessment process with my 10 year old, I was told a few times that I must limit how much time he spent on his interests. I have no idea to what purpose, but on the face of it, I believe it was to make him more NT. I'm so pleased I listened to my own instincts about this and ignored them.
When he was seven, my son went on a school trip to a zoo. After a talk by the zoo's vet, the children were asked questions about the animals. My son amazed his teachers that day. My little boy, slightly below average academically, had self taught himself about reptiles, amphibians and birds and knew enough about them to impress the vet.
Another day at school, he told his teachers that we had a pet barn owl. Through his own independent research, he knew more than the average adult knows about birds of prey. He was also lying through his teeth. We do not, and never have had, a barn owl. But such was his interest, he'd built up a whole fantasy land where we did have an owl.
Our calmest times are when he is immersed in an interest. There's no way I'm going to limit these times, especially not since these are the times when we can see potential genius in our son.
Now, when something takes his interest, we are very careful to let it develop, and put things in place to help this development.
Many autistic people find themselves when they follow their special interests, whether they are scientists, actors, artists or IT specialists, by following their interests, the world is a better place for all of us because they have been allowed to follow their passions.