Your child’s special interests are key
For years now, our home has been overrun with fish tanks, reptiles and computers.
My oldest son has been fascinated with fish and aquariums since he was three years old. When he was 12, this fascination expanded to include building computers (because building a computer is a lot like building an aquarium filtration system, but without the stinky water).
My youngest has loved animals of all kinds since before he could walk and has been memorizing every reptile detail and factoid possible since he began to talk.
There’s no escaping it – my children need these interests. It’s part of how they interact with others and often, how they cope with overwhelm. It’s enjoyable for them.
As much as I would prefer a lizard-free, tidy, no aquarium in sight home, I have decided that the best approach is to find ways to support their interests, and sometimes, even use them to my advantage.
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Autism and Special Interests
The DSM-5 actually includes these special interests as part of the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Its description is:
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 interest).
This language looks at the difference and can make it seem negative, but the truth is, there are many ways that special interests can be a tremendous benefit for our children and their learning!
Using Your Child’s Special Interests To Facilitate Learning
When I consider my two boys, I can see some pretty amazing upsides to having these special interests. These are the ones that I consider to be the most essential for facilitating their learning:
Increased Interest Equals Decreased Resistance
This one is simple, but oh so true. If my child is interested in what we are learning, he is less likely to resist the learning. This is doubly true if I am able to incorporate in his special interest. For example, when my son is struggling to complete his math problems, I often switch gears and ask him to help me calculate the volume of an aquarium. My youngest is always happy to practice reading if it is a Harry Potter book or a book about snakes.
When I am mindful of their interests, my boys are much more engaged, more likely to learn and I have less battles to fight!
Opportunities For Long-Term Growth
Temple Grandin often encourages parents to find their child’s interest and cultivate it to help them with future employment and overall well-being. She developed an interest in farming and cattle early on and that became her career prior to being an advocate and speaker. Not only did it provide an income, but it gave her immense joy and satisfaction in her adult life.
Allowing our children even more access to their special interests through their education and learning can actually increase their likelihood of adult success. This is why I homeschool – to give my kids the best shot possible in life and their interests must certainly be a part of it.
Increased Social Interactions
The older my children get, the more I see how they use their interests to help them in social settings. While they may struggle with the basics in social skills, their individual interests give them something to talk about and use to connect with others. Special interests can be invaluable for helping our kids get out of their comfort zones in social scenarios.
Overall, I am a huge advocate for incorporating our kiddo’s interests into our learning and daily lives. I have discovered time and time again that more we accept and celebrate their strengths, the more they learn and grow.
Please, let me encourage you, and even give you permission, to scrap the traditional textbook when needed, in favor of special interest-focused learning.
More about Shawna
Shawna writes about special needs, homeschooling and the messiness of motherhood. She hopes moms of all walks will find Not The Former Things helps them feel a little lighter, more encouraged and determined to live with hope. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.
A gift from Shawna
Shawna generously wanted to offer you copies of some amazing books she’s written! You can grab them right here!
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