Growing up I was a collector. I collected pretty much anything that catptured my interest including Garfield comics, porcelin dolls, coins, spoons, sea glass, old glass bottles, crystals, flowers and more. This evolved as I became an adult and generally aligned with what I was doing for work which thankfully was my choice. I began collecting children’s books and teaching supplies. I continued to collect sea glass and crystals but my focus was on my day to day work which was teaching. Once I had my kids, the focus shifted again and it became collecting for them. I went through a phase of collecting Little People toys, wooden toys, more kids books and I even managed to collect the entire In the Night Garden toy set which was discontinued years ago. My urge and need to collect the entire set drove me to source pieces of the set from overseas at a crazy price upon reflection. However in that moment, it was necessary. I HAD to get it.
Now, it may not sound extreme, but what I’ve realised is that my collecting of items that I”m interested in is usually at a more intense level than I imagine most people would collect things. What I’m now working on is learning to control the impulses that lead me to think my world will end if I don’t complete the set RIGHT NOW and to look to channeling the energy and passion into creating things, making experiences and being more mindful in the pursuit of my treasures. As this is something I’m learning as an adult and is quite an ingrained habit, it’s a long process. My post today is abouut how important it is to support our children’s interests and passions but also teach them to maintain control over it, so the passion doesn’t control them. When my passion controls me, it is not enjoyable. I feel like a slave to it. A need that drives me to engage in it, but not out of choice or pleasure. When I am in control of my passions and I’m able to get lost in my activity (creating, doing or searching) in a beautiful way. It’s fulfilling, all consuming for those moments without the guilt as I’ve already completed my responsibilities before hand.
When I mean I get lost in the activity, I truly have no sense of time. I feel a giddyness, child-like joy and am truly present in the moment. I don;t want to be anywhere else, nor do I feel the pull to. However, because I do have 2 little people who depend on me for food, water, safety etc. I have learned to set a timer on my phone or to have my husband ring after a certain amount of time. There have even been times when my children are with me, where they are my source that brings me back to reality (usually they are bored and want to go home). In those moments, it’s strange because I feel momentarily like the child who doesn’t want to go home.
As a parent, my husband and I feel very strongly about supporting our children’s interest and passions. You never know where it will lead them, or you as the parent. Sometimes they find the passion, sometimes it’s through an experience we have as a family. Either way, we generally walk beside them through their journey with the passion and if they decide to move on, so do we. However, sometimes their passion becomes a family passion, and that is magical!
With 3 out of 4 brains in our household being Neurodiverse, the intensity and variety of interests are wide. However, 2 years ago, a passing comment by one child has led to a family passion which we all enjoy together. And as any parent can appreciate, having an activity the whole family can enjoy is a rare and beautiful thing. Two years ago, my eldest expressed an interest in planets. I then told a story about being their age and having the same interest and being fortuanate enough to look through a neigbours telescope in the 1980’s and seeing the craters on the moon. It was mindblowing to my young brain. In the early 1990’s I recanted the story of lying outside on the grassy hill behind our house and watching a meteor shower for the first time. There were so many you couldn’t count them all. The magic of those memories must have been palpable as my husband then became the driving force behind us getting our first proper telescope. Since then, we have purchased 2 larger telescopes and my husband has taught himself to take pictures of the stars and planets. He is continuously honing his craft and myself and the kids are always excited to look through the telescope and witness the light from years gone by. The slideshow below, are some of the photos that were taken last night. Not only am I in constant awe of my husband’s ability to learn anything he puts his mind to, but I’m in awe of his dedication to his children in supporting their passions and interests.
A neurodiverse interest has a depth and strength which is hard to compare. It can be for a day or for a lifetime. But those passions that persist can be a great avenue to a fulfilled future be it through employment, study or hobby. I didn’t realise it at the time, but since learning about Autism, it has been the focus of my passion; I have hyperfuocused on it for 20 years. Not only has it led me to have a fulfilling career, but it has led me to understand myself and my children fully. The subconsious is a beautiful thing.
A child or student’s passion is a great way to support them in learning. If we can incorporate their interest into what they are doing, there will be a natural motivation and desire to learn. That is why I’m such a huge fan of self directed learning and student led research projects. Both have had very positive results with my children. Their natural drive and curiosity to learn coupled with their passion has overcome school refusal days and helped turn, “I don’t know” to “I’ll find out” . This of course is not on every occasion, but lately it has been working. I also realise this will not be the case for all children. We need to always be aware of other factors impacting on a child or student’s ability to complete a task such as are their basic needs met? What is going on at home? What is going on in their bodies (hormonal fluctuations, sensory needs)? Do they feel safe and in control? Etc etc.
While we support their passions, it’s vital (speaking to you as an adult who is trying to learn these skills now) to teach them how to have and set healthy limits around their passions. Explain to them, that it should be an enjoyable experience and not a burden. Give them the systems to put in place to manage their time (responsibilities vs passions) but explicitly teach and support them to use the system and modify it as needed. This is a vital skill that I feel many are missing. It goes beyond just setting time limits with visuals and timers. We need to be able to teach them how to positively transition away from their passion. How to complete their responsibilities before engaging in their interests and how to clean up or pack away their interests so they can use it again later while maintaining a tidy environment (which generally helps us feel calm).
We also need to teach them to be kind to themselves when they don’t succeed and how to love themselves more at that point. How to be their own biggest supporter instead of critic and how important it is to make mistakes and mess up. Because that is how we learn. I never learned anything from being right, but I’ve learned a lot from making mistakes. Much of this will be how we react to their errors, how they hear us speak to ourselves and us modeling making mistakes and talking it through (literally, out loud).
Let’s remember to pay attention to our little one’s passions and support them on their journeys with them. They are possibly the pathway to a contented and fulfilled future.
-Christina Keeble, Neurodivergent Mum