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 Making the Most of the Special Interest Associate Professor Kate Sofronoff School of Psychology University of Queensland.

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Presentation on theme: " Making the Most of the Special Interest Associate Professor Kate Sofronoff School of Psychology University of Queensland."— Presentation transcript:

1  Making the Most of the Special Interest Associate Professor Kate Sofronoff School of Psychology University of Queensland

2 What is it?  A preoccupation  Can be all consuming  Can be an intense need to be occupied with the interest  Can change  Forms parts of the Restricted, Repetitive Behaviours and Interests diagnostic criteria

3 What does it Look Like?  In young children can be a repetitive behaviour or activity  Collecting….. Objects or examples  Often moves on to collecting information  To wanting to be engaged in the activity a lot  Wanting to talk about the subject  Can be an obsession one day and suddenly never spoken of again

4 What is the Function of the Special Interest?  Relaxation  The familiarity can have a calming effect  It is predictable, not confusing like a lot of other things  Self esteem  This is something I am good at and comfortable with  Totally absorbing  Can lose oneself in it  It is enjoyable

5 Is it Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?  No, it is quite different from OCD  OCD is an anxiety disorder  Non-functional repetitive behaviour (compulsive behaviour) is used to reduce anxiety felt because of an obsession (e.g. a fear of dirt or germs)  A person with OCD is compelled to engage in the repetitive behaviour but does not enjoy it

6 Is it a Hobby  It can sometimes start as a hobby  People pursue a hobby in leisure time but they can let it go at other times  A special interest is all consuming and could take up ALL of a person’s time  It may also be of little interest to other people  Unlikely to be playing golf or cricket or football  But could be an interest in particular players and scores across decades

7 What are Some Common Areas of Special Interest  Computers and computer games  Cars, trains and heavy machinery  Mechanical devices  Collecting information on a specific topic – batting averages of famous cricketers  Animals (more common in girls)  Space and science and science fiction

8 In Young Children  Thomas the Tank Engine  Use to teach colours  Use to teach numbers  Ask questions, who, why, where, how  Helps to increase language and understanding  Use as part of a social story  Sometimes Thomas gets stuck at the crossing because it is someone else’s turn to cross  I will try to be like Thomas and wait quietly for my turn

9 How Much Access  If a child has unlimited access to their special interest we lose the opportunity to use it for contingent reinforcement  Reward for behaviour we want to increase  We can teach the concept of ‘give and take’ or ‘compromise’ by allowing controlled access  “yes, you can play your game as soon as you have …….”  “yes, if you …… then you can play your game.”

10 Allow Access  When the child is feeling stressed  Perhaps at the end of a day at school (limit time and include additional strategies such as trampoline or listening to music)  The idea is to extend the resources available to the child  As a reward for anything good happening (limit time and include additional rewards)  The idea is to build a bank of things that can help the child feel good  To build resilience and the capacity to manage stress

11 Do Not Allow Access  To stop bad behaviour  Otherwise bad behaviour earns access (reward)  If it means the child then avoids a chore or task that is important  Avoidance is rewarded  If it will severely disrupt the activities of someone else  It is important to learn that others have rights and that ‘give and take’ is important

12 Emotion Regulation  Can be a big issue for a child with Asperger syndrome  Sometimes parents will give in to avoid a tantrum  Problem with waiting for what is wanted  Controlled access to a special interest can help in this process of learning to wait

13 School Aged Children  Can the special interest be used in the classroom?  Access as a reward  Can it be used to facilitate learning?  Extend reading, use in arithmetic, to make explanations more meaningful  Can it be used to facilitate social interactions?  Can the child help others in some way?  Can it be used to enhance confidence?  Positive comments about knowledge or skill  Self esteem?

14 How Could This Happen  Teacher education – a top down approach  Creative solutions  Knowledge of strategies that work  Exploration of differences in children  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses  Tolerance of differences  Tendency to like people who are similar PLUs  Education broadens the mind and increases tolerance

15 Celebration of Difference  Who do we know that is really good at something?  How did that person get to be really good?  What did s/he need to do?  Spend a lot of time, and effort and energy.  Give up some other things  Did that person have any difficulties?

16 Bill Gates  What was he like as a young person?  Excellent memory for facts  Failed to form peer relationships  Spent a lot of time in the library  What did he do?  Single-minded pursuit of computer expertise at the expense of many other things including graduating from college  Did he have friends?  With older students and associates  Noted for not taking the ideas or feelings of others into account  Has this single mindedness been a setback for him?

17 Albert Einstein  Became interested in mathematics at age 12  Described himself as very concerned about issues of social justice but did not want to spend much time with people, even his family  Eccentric and a very confusing speaker – many social/emotional deficits  Extreme focus on one area  Best known for the Theory of Relativity Nobel Prize for Physics

18 The Beatles  John Lennon and Paul McCartney  Do either of them seem to have traits of AS?  Did they have a special interest?  Did they pursue it to the exclusion of other things?  Did they insist on playing music that was different from what was currently popular?

19 Pick an Artist  Do they ALL have Asperger syndrome?  Do they ALL have a special interest?  The difference may be that the child with AS develops a special interest  It is called an obsession  It interferes with activities thought to be more important  The talented adult is seen differently  Very driven, very ambitious, perfectionist

20 Think Creatively  Take 5 minutes with the people beside you to think of a special interest that you know about  What are the broad characteristics of this interest? E.G. :-  Mathematical  Visual  Order, attention to detail  How could this interest be used to foster other skills, self esteem or resilience?  In what sort of workplace settings might the skills that come with this interest be acceptable?  In what sort of social settings might this type of interest be more acceptable?

21 Can we Shape the Interest  Most people with Asperger syndrome are not geniuses  If they are to succeed in finding a meaningful occupation we need to work towards this  The person needs to work in an area they like and that doesn’t cause them too much stress or anxiety  Not everyone can work directly in the area of their special interest  Are there areas related to the interest?  Are the characteristics of the interest ones that are useful in certain types of jobs?

22 Why do we Work?  Sometimes because we want to pursue a particular career/interest  This is not the most common pathway  Often because it was the job we got and we don’t mind it  Often because we recognize that we need the money to pay for the things we want  Reflects a preparedness to work in an area that is not our specific interest so that we can have the things we need

23 Compromise is Important  This idea that we work outside our specific interest may not come naturally  It is part of the idea of ‘compromise’ or ‘give and take’ and needs to be developed over time  If you want to paint or be an actor  May work as a shop assistant to earn money  If you want to play computer games  May need to work in an unrelated area to afford this

24 In Conclusion  The special interest should be valued  It can be used to broaden learning  To introduce new information, skills and strategies  To teach about compromise and ‘give and take’  To assist with emotion regulation  The characteristics of the interest will give us a key to the type of work that may be appropriate for an individual

25 Questions?  Any Questions?  Please do not hesitate to contact me with queries 


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