BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing was back on our screens at the weekend – happy times for me! My husband calls it ‘Strictly Widower’ season as I sprawl out on the sofa and he shuffles upstairs with a bar of chocolate to watch something else.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a ‘special interest’ but I have watched every series, have favourite contestants and dances and partnerships (Darren Gough and Lilia, Jay and Aliona’s Pulp Fiction jive to name just 2). What do I love so much about it? The dancing, costumes, sparkle, glitz and glamour – escapism from the everyday life and the opportunity to watch something that makes me happy.
I met a little lad last week who did have special interests – lifts and trains. I worked with him for about an hour, doing a series of fun tasks and games as an alternative to a classroom observation. While I was observing the areas needing support at school, it become evident very quickly how driven he was by his special interests and how I could also guide the school to use this to both his and their advantage.
Not only did he have a lot of knowledge about lifts in general (makes, the ways the doors open, public lifts in local shopping centres, height, service lifts, ones with voices, the different types of buttons) but this promoted other skills during our sessions. He was very quiet at first but ‘came alive’ when talking about lifts. For example, use of vocabulary was good when talking about them and I wouldn’t have seen this side of his language skills without it. Not many 7 year olds use the word ‘modernisation’ (although it must be noted that this level of language was not evident at other times during the session). He made eye contact, he was happy. I said to him ‘Do lifts make you happy?’ He became more confident in what I was asking him to do once he had had the opportunity to talk about lifts and I felt a lower level of anxiety as I engaged in the conversation more, telling him about I lift I’d been in when I stayed on the 14th floor of a hotel in Birmingham and my experience in the CN Tower. He’d seen that one on you tube, he said.
While the chance to talk about lifts had a positive impact for him, it also allowed me to get to know more about him and see more than if I’d observed in class. It was also interesting for the member of staff who took notes for me during the session. She’d never heard him say so much and was able to identify what he was able to do as a result of talking about about them.
So, what does this tell us about supporting autistic children? Use a special interest to support you in supporting the child. Consider how a special interest can be used:
- Relationship builder
- Task motivator
- Anxiety reducer
- Conversation starter
- Happy place facilitator
It is so important to find out whether the child you are supporting has a special interest. Some may be short lived but some may be the key to supporting a number of skills and could lead to a career later in life. Who knows, the little lad I saw may end up being a lift engineer or designer.