If autism, monotropism and a tendency to experience interests in an intense and compelling way are interlinked (Milton, 2017), there are potentially important implications for autistic children in schools. Indeed, notwithstanding some difficulties associated with a monotropic thinking style, such as not understanding the perspectives of others (Murray et al., 2005), enabling autistic children to engage with their strong interests has been found to be predominantly advantageous, rather than deleterious, in school environments (Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016). Positive effects include improved learning and curriculum access (Hesmondhalgh & Breakey, 2001; Wittemeyer et al., 2011), better cooperativity and social skills (Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016), increased participation in after-school clubs (Jones et al., 2008) and improved fine motor skills and social and communication abilities (Winter-Messiers, 2007). Furthermore, such an approach enables autistic children “to relax, overcome anxiety, experience pleasure, and make better sense of the physical world” (Gunn & Delafield- Butt, 2016, p. 411), and to moderate their levels of arousal, thus impacting positively on their emotional well-being too (Winter-Messiers, 2007).
Furthermore, longer-term benefits have been associated with the pursuit of intense interests, with relatively few negative effects overall (Gunn & Delafield-Butt, 2016), which in themselves might only occur if autistic people are pressured to reduce or adapt their interests (Mercier et al., 2000). Such a disposition can lead to self-taught expertise, for example (Mottron, 2011), and so is associated with a high level of skill and even savant abilities (Mottron et al., 2013). Being able to develop strong interests can therefore constitute a potential route to employment (Koenig & Williams, 2017; Wittemeyer et al., 2011) and help create the possibility of a fulfilling adult life (Grove, Hoekstra, Wierda, & Begeer, 2018; Jones et al., 2008) providing, inter alia, a sense of well-being, opportunities for personal growth, social learning and development (Koenig & Williams, 2017; Mercier et al., 2000).
Source: Autism, intense interests and support in school: from wasted efforts to shared understandings