Special Interest Areas (SIA) refer to objects or topics that an individual with ASD might have an unusual obsession toward. SIA can either be a troublesome behavior, or a valuable skill. Sometimes times the difference between troublesome behavior and skill is how teachers and parents handle the SIA. However, not all SIAs can be turned into skills. A few examples may better illustrate the difference.
Example #1: cameras. I once knew an adult that had an SIA of cameras. This individual would always carry one, even if the camera was just a drawing on a sheet of paper. As an adult, the SIA of cameras could turn into a career of sorts. Instead, this adult lacked the skills, knowledge, and goals to make a career out of the SIA a reality.
Example #2: sniffing. Although not a common SIA, some children have been known to have an SIA of sniffing new things they find. This SIA can lead to inappropriate behaviors in social situations and may not be able to lead to a useable skill.
Using SIAs as a Teaching Tool
Many SIA are not harmful; therefore, there is immense room to make SIAs beneficial in some way to the individual. SIA can be used in the classroom by structuring reading, math, and other activities around the SIA. A child who has an SIA of trains can be taught math through word problems involving trains, or visual cues using trains. A child with an SIA of an animal(s) can be taught literacy skills through books and/or stories involving the particular animal.
Caution should be used in incorporating SIA into the curriculum. Focusing too much of the material on a child’s SIA could have negative side effects. It is not suggested that SIAs be included in everything the child does. The idea here is to use SIA to help the child in trouble areas and teach appropriate skill sets in many different areas.
Winter-Messiers, M. A. (2014). Harnessing the power of special interest areas in the classroom. In K. D. Buron & P. Wolfberg,Learners on the Autsim Spectrum: Preparing Highly Qualified Educators and Related Practitioners (2nd ed., pp. 83-105). Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Winter-Messiers, M. A. (2007). From tarantulas to toilet brushes: understanding the special interest areas of children and youth with Asperger Syndrome. Remedial and Special Education, 28(3), 140-152.