Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessions and Special Interests

It is characteristic for a person with Asperger’s syndrome to have a special interest that often develops into an obsession. This is often apparent from as young as two years. Although the interests change, adults display the same fascination with their interest as children do. In his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood describes some of these obsessions and the best way to handle them.

What is the Difference Between a Hobby and an Obsession?

People with Asperger’s syndrome latch onto topics and interests that are often considered a hobby by others. However, they develop an intense interest in the subject and may become experts in it. Here are some common behaviors associated with their obsessions:

accumulation of objects or facts and information intense attachment to objects in a collection obsession dominates the person’s free time obsession dominates the person’s conversation obsession is concentrated on to the exclusion of other activities obsession is accompanied by extreme motivation, attention and ability agitation if the collection is disturbed or moved out of order

People with Asperger’s syndrome say their interests give them stability in a hostile world as they are backed up by cold facts and are unable to hurt them.

What Kinds of Things Interest People with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Interests vary between age groups and some will be age-appropriate while others will not. Some obsessions involve physical collections while others are fact-based. Tony Attwood lists some of the common interests that characterize people with Asperger’s syndrome:

animals and nature: This often starts with a fascination for dinosaurs and may end up with expert knowledge about animal or insect groups such as spiders or snakes technical and scientific interests: This group covers computers, vehicles, trains, aircraft and ships. On the scientific side, interest may be shown in volcanoes, astronomy, mathematics and numbers, chemistry and the periodic table, and the weather public transport systems: The person may know every station in a subway system or travel around to visit old rail collections

While children may develop interests in any of the above, they may start off with simpler, more childish interests. Boys and girls may have different obsessions based on gender, including the following:

for boys, card collections such as baseball or superheroes for girls, Barbie dolls books science fiction and fantasy interest in death and freaks

What Role do Special Interests Play in the Life of a Person with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Obsessions play an important role in the daily life of someone with Asperger’s syndrome. Researchers have recorded the following as being some of the benefits:

Obsessions help people overcome anxiety when the interest is directed at something they fear. By understanding it, they strip it of its ability to harm. The interest is associated with pleasure – for example, a family trip on a steam train or a visit to a game park. The interest is a form of relaxation. People with Asperger’s syndrome thrive on routine and familiarity and being able to lose themselves in an interest is a stress reliever. People with Asperger’s syndrome struggle with the unpredictability of life and social interaction and feel secure within the catalogued system of their interest. The interest may give them a sense of identity if they are considered to be an expert in the area.

While special interests can be beneficial to the person with Asperger’s syndrome, they can also cause difficulties and become a source of annoyance to those in their social circle.

People with Asperger’s syndrome commonly have obsessional interests that fall in the areas of animals, nature, science and transport. They often have expert knowledge in these areas and this can be both helpful and a problem.


Attwood, Tony, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006

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