Home Discussions Students Getting Work Done Intense Interests and Career Choices

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    Jessica Murray

      (posted with permission from twitter exchange)

      Hi! I just wanted to ask about obsessions and whether autistic scientists build their careers around them. And how do they manage to read or be involved in topics they’re not so interested in. ADHDers have obsessions, but they’re short lasting. We jump from one to the next.


      Some autistic students stay with the same intense interest for a long time, while some change their interests over time, or, morph them, or, even have many interests going at once! As with anything, autistic people are individual first, of course.

      That said, for sure there are many ways to leverage an intense interest or obsession into a career. Sometimes it’s straightforward – if a person loves history and knows everything about it, perhaps becoming a history professor is up their alley!

      As for autistic scientists, for sure intense interests can be harnessed to work towards future careers. When my own son was in 10th grade, we lived in Southern California, and he experienced the first large earthquake that he could remember. He became extremely interested in disaster preparedness, via Zombie preparedness. Every essay he wrote, every class discussion he had, revolved around zombies. He even wrote his college entrance essays around this topic! I worked hard to advocate for this to be allowed, accepted, celebrated, and, in fact, in his high school year book, one student wrote that it was the highlight of his year to hear my son talk about zombies in every class. (My son was valedictorian, but that is another story.)

      All that to say – be creative, and be sure to allow the intense interests, WHILE incorporating them into things that students need to do.


      Oh, p.s. my son graduated college with a B.S. in Computer Science in Real Time Interactive Simulation with a minor in Mathematics and now works full-time at Microsoft. He is still very much prepared for disasters, including zombie attacks.

      Laura Gilmour

        This is a good question and I’d say a lot of it has to do with links to subjects of interest and in a bit of “first preferred activity and the preferred activity.” As an autistic I often find links in most topics to my special interests. For instance I developed an interest in high school social studies which I used to find “boring” after the 9/11 attacks and an understanding of how everything that happens in the world has links to the past. The same can be said for overlapping science and social science subjects. For instance sociology and social psychology also have links with the brain and biology. I found it incredibly useful for instance one term to take both human sexuality (which had a neurological focus) and sociology of gender (which had a social/society focus).

        Some subjects are frustrating and can’t be related back to interests or are an environment that is highly stressful. Sometimes I’m able to tell myself things such as “I need to complete this course to meet the requirements to get to do things I want.” I will be honest I am less keen about statistics and find it a struggle sometimes but I know an understanding is necessary to be a good researcher even if it’s a component I have to work harder on or ask for help whereas coming up with creative research questions or models, report writing, and internet data collection from unique populations are my research strengths.

        I would say if you are somebody who likes to learn a lot about a topic or even shift topics a lot a career in research, consulting, or development (e.g. software) would all be good matches. Also when considering research, being a professor on the tenure track is not the only option and there is everything from industry to even opening your own consulting firm and building up clients. Everything doesn’t work out as planned and a lot of young adults do a lot of trial and error (and not just autistic ones) but I think being able to try and take risks (and fail and use it as a learning experience) is important.


          Hi! I was the one who asked this question over Twitter. Thank you so much for sharing your son’s story. Sounds like you are an amazing mom and his biggest advocate. What a lucky guy!

          I’m a biology PhD student, 31 yrs old, and mother of a toddler. I was also diagnosed with ADHD last year which explained why I suddenly got madly interested in something, and then would drop it like a hot potato. The issue is that while I’m hyperfocusing on my interest of the moment, I can’t seem to do anything else. I was wondering how autistics go about that, and I do like the idea about incorporating interests in coursework, but since I don’t take courses anymore I think I will just maybe allow space and time for my interests in between work and then just wait it out. They usually go away in a few weeks. 🙂

          Thank you again!

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