Fixated interests

Temple Grandin is a high functioning person with autism who writes and speaks about her experiences. In an interview (see link below) she talks about how people with autism often have "repetitive, fixated interests”. She continues to explain that these interests are often intense and that "we need to use these special interests to motivate school work.” She advises “If the kid like aeroplanes lets teach reading with aeroplanes, maths with aeroplanes.” 

I have found that engaging with the fixated interests of people with autism is also a way to motivate interest in social interaction and assist autistic people to be more accepting (and in fact begin to enjoy) change. In art therapy I encourage diversion from repetitive expressions in conversation and in artistic forms. 

I have worked with children who not only talk in monologue about their particular interests but also draw particular imagery exactly the same way every time. I saw one boy who also said exactly the same thing as he went through the same process in drawing his image of a train. 

Through social interaction people are exposed to new ideas and different perspectives. Similarly, in the shared space of art therapy, the therapist can work with the client to expand ideas and shift repetitive representations into variations of the form. Through sharing his interest in both conversation and my own art works the boy interested in trains was inspired to draw trains going through tunnels, over bridges, trains with people inside and trains with different animals in each carriage. One week, without any input from me, he drew a birthday party on a train with people on the platform bringing presents and a cake. Inside one present he drew a tiny train. The following week he independently drew the fruit and vegetable display at the supermarket. 

By engaging with an autistic persons interests, monologues can shift into dialogue. In art therapy this occurs in both conversation and visual expression. Engaging with these intense interests gives the person with autism positive experiences on how interacting with another person can increase their interest and of the inspiration that comes from expanding ideas and change.


See Temple Grandin interview at: