Special interests form part of the core features of autism. However, to date there has been limited research focusing on the role of special interests in the lives of autistic adults. This study surveyed autistic adults on their special interest topics, intensity, and motivation. It also assessed the relationship between special interests and a range of quality of life measures including subjective wellbeing and domain specific life satisfaction. About two thirds of the sample reported having a special interest, with relatively more males reporting a special interest than females. Special interest topics included computers, autism, music, nature and gardening. Most autistic adults engaged in more than one special interest, highlighting that these interests may not be as narrow as previously described. There were no differences in subjective wellbeing between autistic adults with and without special interests. However, for autistic adults who did have special interests, motivation for engaging in special interests was associated with increased subjective wellbeing. This indicates that motivation may play an important role in our understanding of special interests in autism. Special interests had a positive impact on autistic adults and were associated with higher subjective wellbeing and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure. However, a very high intensity of engagement with special interests was negatively related to wellbeing. Combined, these findings have important implications for the role of special interests in the lives of autistic adults. Autism Res 2018. © 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
LAY SUMMARY: Autistic adults reported having special interests in a range of topics, including computers, music, autism, nature and gardening. Special interests were associated with a number of positive outcomes for autistic adults. They were also related to subjective wellbeing and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure. Very high intensity of engagement with special interests was related to lower levels of wellbeing. This highlights the important role that special interests play in the lives of autistic adults.
- autism spectrum disorder
- quality of life
- special interests