Christina, a speech professor, and a researcher recalls one of her young clients, a child diagnosed with autism condition, loved to recite new words that she discovered while going through her dictionary.
“She read every word absolutely fine although she did not understand or comprehend the meaning of every word,” explains Christina.
Despite not being able to understand most of the words she read, the child showed little to no interest in discussing things that were not related to her word-discovery activity. While many see it as some sort of limitation, Christina sees it as a unique opportunity.
“Trying something unique and creative is itself a new strength,” explains the professor.
Christina started tapping into the young child’s inner excitement to foster her language and speech development skills. The professor started training her young client by allowing the child to read the words aloud whilst the professor enacted. Quite interestingly, the professor says, she was able to find unique connections between different words and their meanings.
The consuming nature of being limited to unique interests is at times seen as a hindrance to the overall development of children diagnosed with autism condition. However, pathologists involved in the development of language skills view it as an opportunity to change the overall perception of the masses.
Special Interests: What is it?
Being obsessive or having a keen interest to a specific topic and maintaining a prolonged interest is seen to be one of the many indications towards the probability of being diagnosed with autism. Special interests can take any form ranging across activities, subjects, and objects.
- Objects: Puzzles, dolls, trains, stuffed animals
- Activities: Cleaning, reading, blowing bubbles
- Subjects: Movies, math, transportation schedules
In comparison to the interest levels of non-autistic people, the attention levels of people diagnosed with autism condition are often observed to intense. Christina explains, “In other words, autistic individuals are better off in fuelling their interest rather having to worry about everything else that might not matter to them.”
However, one should never mistake special interest for obsession. Being obsessive and having special interests are clearly two different topics although researchers highlight these having a minor overlap of as much as 17 percent. At times, autistic people are also seen to exhibit repetitive or monotonous behaviors that could be attributed to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Koenig says, “Having one’s special interests affirmed can work wonders in improving the overall quality of life at any age.”
“More often we have seen practitioners spending their time in trying to remediate the diagnosed individual weakness. But not everyone tries to have a keen eye on building strengths,” explains Koenig.
Can Special Interests Help in Auguring Speech?
Special interests are seen to present unique opportunities when it comes to developing intentional communication skills. Reuterskiold explains there are two types of communication
- Communication for the sake of interaction
- Communication that is backed by intention
The first type of communication is uncommon in autistic children since they are not much drawn towards socialization. The second one needs to be properly harnessed that is bound to help one improve their overall quality of life.
Intentional communication is something that purely relies on instances in which young children are interested in discussing a specific need or an interest. One needs to recognize a child’s excitement that could trigger a sign of intentional communication and a greater probability of underlying special interest.
Having a meaningful connection between words that are said in addition to the signs of non-verbal communication makes one’s intentions better understood.
Koenig explains, “It helps when parents explore what actually their child loves doing time and again.” A strength-based approach is a simple act of observation and practice.
Some of the strategies to enable communication are as follows:
- Try to spend lesser time in trying to get people with autism “normal.”
- Spend your time in encouraging your peers on autism to be more encouraging
- Try to put yourself in shoes of a person with autism
Some of the tactics mentioned above are helpful in empowering and supporting people on the spectrum in their overall social and linguistic development.
Koenig concludes, “Identification and affirmation of an individual’s passion is a simple activity. All one needs to do is willing to pay attention to what s/he hears.