Colin was young when he came to me, still in elementary school.
“I just understand computers,” he earnestly explained. “I speak their language.”
And it certainly seemed like he did. He began practicing on every electronic device he could find. There were a few failures but there were also plenty of successes. Before we moved into separate apartments he built me a computer from the ground up, the one I’m currently using. And he’s built quite a few of his own. Computers are his love… his dream… his hobby… his passion… his drive… and his future. The voice of the computer is his muse. And, to professionals, it’s his special interest.
That phrase is one of the most demeaning phrases I know. It turns far reaching knowledge and skill into nothing more than a weird autistic parlour trick. It diminishes it down to child’s play, akin to a tea party with your dollies or rolling around on the floor with toy cars.
You could find two people, both equally well versed in Egyptology. One neurotypical and the other autistic. The first would be considered an amateur historian and respected for their knowledge while the second would be treated like a toy poodle dancing on its hind legs for treats.
“That’s interesting about Hatshepsut. Now why don’t you go get a snack.”
I read an article a few months ago about a teacher who loved chess. It was his favourite game and he was quite good at it too. He started up a chess club for the students and helped them learn how to play too. The other teachers were not only impressed with his skill but with how well he could get the children involved and understanding the concepts behind the game. He changed schools the following year. Same position… same type of class… and he started a chess club there as well. But this school knew he was autistic. Suddenly his skills and talents meant nothing, seen more akin to a parrot singing words for crackers than a human working with a gift.
I’ve written (and self published) two novels so far. I love writing. I love finding just that exact right turn of phrase. I love when suddenly everything clicks and the words just start pouring out. But I’m pragmatic and realize that much of the time is spent staring at the screen or my keyboard while I try to think of a bridge between paragraphs or how to phrase what comes next. It’s certainly not easy and sometimes it isn’t even enjoyable, but it’s worth it. If someone told me that was my special interest it would a) make me feel like I’d been writing a story on primary school paper with one of those fat red pencils and b) absolutely infuriate me.
If my years of writing is a special interest then every other writer out there should be considered to have a special interest too. If Colin’s interest and skills with computers is a special interest then every single computer repair person out there has a special interest. It needs to work both ways. We are all people, we all have goals, skills, and talents. We all have interests. Let’s drop the insulting special and move on. We’ll undoubtedly learn something.