Some autistic people use the term “special interests” to describe the interests featured in this project, particularly to describe the intensity and importance of an interest, often discussing it as a central part of their lives. Other autistic people are skeptical of this term, noting that “special” is euphemistic language when it comes to disability and that their interests do not need to be further pathologized.
An example of this pathologization is seen in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, which is used to professionally diagnose autism in the United States. The diagnostic criteria claims autistic people may have “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus” but also “deficits in social-emotional reciprocity [such as in sharing] interests, emotions, or affect.”
The narratives in the gallery show the limits and contradictions of diagnostic descriptions of autism. They do this by highlighting autistic passions and joy that are left out of many narratives of what it means to be autistic. Focusing on autistic people’s interests is important because it helps tell new stories about autism that emphasize the things that matter to autistic people.