Life on the Autism Spectrum

Autism, hobbies & interests

“Programming was my life”
One characteristic of autism is having ‘special interests’ and some of the activities people described enjoying could be interpreted as special interests. Interests could be categorised into a love of nature, arts and technology.

Most people enjoyed and were fascinated by or even obsessed with computers. Daniel said, “I have to say, probably most sort of leisure time is spent sort of fannying around on the computer” while Richard, “an obsessive games player” played games for as long as he could.

Text onlyRead below

Steven thinks people on the spectrum like computers because they are safe and predictable.

View full profile
Sex: Male
There is just, I think computers are a big part of people on the spectrum because we know, I suppose it is the predictability thing, you just switch it on and the same screen will be there and it is not going to be a different person if you like. Like a lot more to computers because of our wiring I think isn’t it? I just think its, I don’t know. Just… there is a safety aspect with it as well I think. It is the predictability is that one of us know what is going to happen. I mean nobody I know who is on the spectrum worries if the computer does something wrong, because we expect it to go wrong at some stage. And it is usually during a process that we are actually pushing it to its limit, whereas if it is with a person, I don’t know whether you are going to break down the conversation if you like, or not understand the conversation, or be hostile. I have got no idea of when that is going to come in and that is always a constant worry is that what if they think I am weird, what if they think I am strange, what if they don’t understand, when they don’t understand what will they say? Yes.
Text onlyRead below

Harriet describes the pleasure she gets from technology, science, driving, tennis and her allotment.

View full profile

Technology is good - computers are my voice - I have built a computer – I try to
make them work when they break at school and the printers etc and I have
done computer clubs. I like the photocopier and will be called out of class
when it goes wrong to mend it because I understand it and other technology
things. I see what an object can do rather than hear the name of the object
so I use an object to do what I want it to do - they say I 'think outside
the box' for example there are lots of different uses for a peg (a
pinching/holding device) than holding washing. I am often surprised how
people do not see how to make life efficient by using objects to help them
and if I say use this they say they did not think of using it like that!
I am nosey so science is good for me - it tells me how things work and is
elegant - it also gives puzzles to solve. All my children are science minded
- they appreciate the beauty of the world, the movement of the clouds, the
feel of rain, the frog hopping in the allotment, the sound of the wind in
the trees or sea hitting the sand, smooth stones and so on ......... The
processes of moving your finger, getting the print on the screen, a car to
move - all those processes that have to work in harmony to achieve the
desired outcome and then to find out where the process went wrong when it
does not work..... it is good
I am doing an OU degree at the moment - science - and it is amazing and is
keeping me safe at the moment - a constant that keeps me grounded when
everything else is changing and frightening. My allotment is good - peaceful
and beautiful with frogs, toads, fox, - I have a grassy area which I mow and
beds of veg that I share with the wildlife (only as much as I say - I plant
more than I need so we can share but if they get greedy then I cover the
food!) as it is their home I am cultivating for me - I have big trees that
were there before I got there and it screens me from the other allotments so
it could be anywhere. The children from school come and visit in the summer
to see the pond and guess the veg and even the most disruptive child is calm
and understands that they are a guest of the wildlife and so am I.
I play tennis which is good and I like driving as it is so mathematical and
elegant thinking of all the processes to make a car work. I am good at
driving I am told. My spatial awareness when driving is good but when I am
walking it is not so good.
I do not go out socially - or visit other's houses. I have one person who
visits occasionally maybe once a month and that is that and when they are
here I do not know what to say and wish they would go because I feel unsafe.
Computer is good I am safe. I like the OU because communication is by computer ad it is the only place where I can be me and not have to hide my difficulties and I am me - it is safe.

Text onlyRead below

Photography and computers are Jamie's areas of 'strong interest'.

View full profile
Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 9

Yes. I do like having, you know, areas of strong interests, which I’m sure lots of others have probably spoke about this as well because people with it tend to be quite knowledgeable in certain areas and in my particular, I’m into photography and computers, especially building them as well. Because I obviously study computers at home as well, because I really enjoyed that course I got into after and used to research about computers in my spare time and got fairly knowledgeable on them, as well as photography as well, going out and practising shooting and everything.

Text onlyRead below

Duncan enjoys War Hammer and computer games and likes the structure and process.

View full profile
Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
I thought I was different because I wasn’t really interested in the sort of stuff that everyone else was interested in. You know quite a lot of my friends were into BMXing and skateboarding, where I was, I was more of a, I was more a computer games, and a War Hammer collector and you know things, things that were structured, like computer games. You go through a mission and you do, you have to complete this, this and this objective before you know, before the end of whatever you have to do. And with Games Workshop you have to make sure you make sure, you have to build it in the correct way to, before you came paint it or do what they do. And I guess the structure, I don’t know. I guess it felt really weird that I liked more structured games to play, whereas you know they were all outside, you know on their bikes and their skate boards while I was sat inside, sort of maybe sometimes on my own, you know, on computer games or watching TV, because you know it was a similar pattern that I got into.

Tom enjoys going out and playing computer games.

View full profile
Sex: Male

Respondent (R), Interviewer (I), Care Manager (CM)


CM' What do you like to do on a Saturday, on your day off? Where do you like to go?


R' Cinema.


CM' Cinema. You like to watch all the new releases, don’t ya? What did you go and see on Saturday, can you remember? 


R' Cinema World.


CM' You went to Cinema World. […]And then Sunday, what do you do on a Sunday?


R' Sunday.


CM' Yes


R' [inaudible]


CM' You just have a nice relaxing day on a Sunday, don’t ya?


R' Yep.


CM' Either play your Wii…


R' Play Wii.


CM' …or you go shopping or whatever he needs to do.


R' [hums]


CM' But generally quite busy. Who comes and takes you out for meals?


R' Meals.


CM' Yeah, who do you go out for meals with?


R' Meals what?


CM' Who do you go to the pub with?


R' [Unclear] Sophie.


CM' Sophie, and he’s got some friends called Elaine and Lizzy…


R' [Interrupts Not so loud please]


CM' …and they come and take you to the, take you out to the pub don’t they, for your tea.


R' Pub.


CM' Yeah


R'  Not so loud please.


CM' It’s fine Tom then. Have you finished or would you like to talk to Sara some more?


R' [hums] More.


CM' More? It’s up to you…


I' Can I ask you some questions Tom?


R' Yes.


I' Do you like cartoons?


R' She said ‘cartoons’ [in a Zippy voice].


CW' What cartoons do you like?


R' Like Zippy.


CW' Zippy, and…


R' George, Bungle and Geoffrey.


CW' George, Bungle and Geoffrey…


I' Oh, Rainbow?


R' Not so loud, Sophie. [inaudible]


CW' And what else do you do? What else do you like? Who does the whacka whacka song? 


R' That’s Zip, no it’s Fuzzy Bear.


CW' [talks at same time] No, it’s Fuzzy Bear, yeah.


I' Do you like the Muppets?


R' The Muppet Show?


CW' ‘Cause he goes on the computer most nights and he surfs all the…


R' [inaudible]


CW' …You Tube clips of cartoons…[…].


I' What’s your favourite computer game?


R' Um, Super M

Peter liked slapstick comedy and thought he would get on with Ken Dodd like a house on fire. Some people were also interested in trains and buses, especially vintage buses. 

Text onlyRead below

Howard and Barbara discuss Howard's enjoyment of train simulators and train journeys.

View full profile
Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male

Howard: Yes. I have still got the occasional bus rides or I go up on my computer a lot. Going on the internet and also playing on my train simulators as well.

Oh right.

Barbara: Yes in a way things do turn out sometimes because if he had still been wanting to go on his trips as he used to, we couldn’t have afforded it, with the train fares.

Howard: The train fares have gone up.
Barbara: So he only goes occasionally if there is something really special.
Howard: Yes.
Barbara: Certain people you know. You would probably see [name] etc. I have always said, “Well look, invite him round.” I know it’s a waste of breath. Now we got hooked on computers and then I got, first of all we got one simulator and you worked your way up to Microsoft trains. And of course he goes to all these different countries and with the games he can download trains, he can build railways, download trains.
Howard: Yes.
Barbara: Because sometimes I look on the web and I see all these Chinese and I say Howard how do you know which to click on and of course he is so used to it now, because there was even French…
Howard: Yes. Russian as well.
Barbara: I have got him dictionaries, German English German dictionary. And he goes to all these countries and I say “Well how did you get there?” “Oh I went to China via Australia”.

Barbara: And of course we did some programming. I don’t know whether that helped you, but he got all this gobbledygook. And I don’t know whether you are supposed to do it or not, but he does it, well these simulators and he gets all this stuff and he alters it to adjust to how he wants it, you know.

So does your simulator beat the real thing or do you still like to go on real train journeys?

Howard: Well a bit of both really.

And what is your favourite train journey in the UK?

Howard: Well I can’t really say I have a particular favourite.

Barbara: What is the furthest you have been because you have been to places I haven’t been to.

Howard: I have been up to Scotland.

By train.

Howard: Yes. That is when they used to run the excursions then.

Barbara: And didn’t you used to, there was the one, you were overnight at some of them.
Howard: Yes. It was an overnight trip, yes.

Barbara: And he would come back ….

Were you sleeping on the train?

Howard: Yes.

Barbara: And he come back home and … [laugh] he would be quite grubby wouldn’t you.
Howard: Hm.
Barbara: Because he would be, you know.
Howard: But this would be over twenty years ago.

Some people were very creative and enjoyed drawing, writing poetry and photography. Other interests included cycling, reading and live theatre, music and films. Tim, for example, runs 20 miles a day and cycles over 70 miles on Sunday mornings while Alex enjoys art and watching films from her collection of over 500 DVDs. John L enjoys supporting local football teams with a group of friends: “Just having a laugh, having a sing-song, telling a few jokes and not taking things seriously, that sort of stuff. So, you know, seeing friends and people and just doing simple, ordinary things”.


Stephen loves drawing, listening to music and watching films.

View full profile
Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 5
Okay. So I love doing drawing, I love doing drawing sketch books for fun because that is why I like my favourites. I can do anything, like I could draw some American cars or transport, like double decker buses in London. And I could do some people and also the street scenes and landmarks, building high rise, tall buildings. Like a new proposal skyscraper, one in London. And in my life I have done a sketch book, while I am drawing I love listening to the music and also watching in my bedroom watching TV. It’s very excited.
What sort of music do you listen to?
Everything. Like R & B, hip hop, the seventies and eighties and the soul disco and everything like pop music and I love watching a bit of a celebrity and with things going on.
On the television?
What like Celebrity Big Brother?
Sort of. I like the real thing, like Hollywood movies, pop stars, pop artists and I like my favourite Rainman and Saturday Night Fever.
Is that your favourite film?
What is it about Rainman, what do you like about that?
He is a very nice guy. I met Dustin Hoffman in about, about I think it was eighteen years ago. And from You Magazine and me and Dustin… he said to me, “I am an excellent driver”. It is a drama movie and I watch it lots of times and sometimes I make myself laugh.
Is that some funny bits?
Yes. Funny bits.
What are the funny bits because I can’t remember them?
Never, never touch that steering wheel while I am driving. Raymond grabbed this steering wheel. Looks like a mad man. He always makes me laugh ha ha ha. Oh oh it is an example of .. I think its plays by Raymond Babbit and he had a brother with Charlie Babbit.

Luke likes music and going to gigs though coping with the crowds was a challenge at first.

View full profile
Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 8
There is a few things. I like playing badly on guitar. I am a big music lover. I’ll go to gigs a lot. And – which is something I have done since I was about, I don’t know 12 or 13 I think. I think that mainly stems from AS though because I didn’t crowds and social situations and things. I would push myself to you know, to go to one and challenge yourself. So I went to my first gig when I was I think 12, and that was because I didn’t like, you know because didn’t like crowds and I didn’t like lots of people so… it was kind of a challenge but I really, I ended up really enjoying myself because it is a bit nerve wracking at first but I really like it.
And what sort of music do you like?
Rock, metal, new metal oldie stuff, I like Indie, I like a little bit of jazz, but in small amounts. I like some emo stuff but not very much, because it is getting a bit mainstream at the moment. I like a lot of things to be honest [laughs]. Just depends what I am listening to at the time. Like if you listen to just one genre of music then you won’t really get, you won’t really get anywhere. Because then you have only got that to listen to, so it is best to branch out a little bit and see if you can find bands you like, rather than music types.
And what other things do you like doing?
I am very narrow minded in that genre. I have the things I like doing which will be like a few things and then other than that I just get by. I am not too sure. Every day is different to be honest so I don’t really have one thing which I continue all the way through, but I like singing, that is something like I have always liked. I am not the best singer but yes. I still enjoy it, so. You shouldn’t stop something if you enjoy it.
Text onlyRead below

Daniel enjoys writing and recording music and writes songs with a friend who also has Asperger...

View full profile
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 11
Margaret' His music.
Daniel' Yes.
Margaret' Staying at home and either recording his music or writing it or something and it is something he tends to be a lot of on his own, only though he says that he wants somebody else to help him out. When you go and sit with him or try and work out what he is doing, there is no room for anybody else to be involved unless of course it is his friend. He has got another friend with Asperger's and they were really well together most of the time. They write songs together.
Daniel' Yes.
Margaret' For some reason that works. If anybody else is with...
Daniel' We are incompatible sometimes but yes….
Margaret' Most of the time you are.
Daniel' I have got this….
Margaret' Anybody else is sitting on the sidelines.
Daniel' We worked out this system [little lad coughs] if I say, he actually writes poetry and stuff, so we sort of write song lyrics together and what generally happens, he says, he will say a line and then I will sort of, I will take it on board and sort of, I will spew it out about five minutes later, it is like every word….
Margaret' As if it is yours.
Daniel' As if it its mine, yes. And he says, “Yes that is a good line,” you know. “I wish I had thought of it.” You know.
Margaret' It is the new Lennon and McCartney.
Daniel' Well he’s we used to have this old system, where it is like most of the time, I would just say, “Oh yes, that is interesting.” And that was like code for …
Margaret' We don’t really want that one. [both laugh]
Daniel' And so, we used to get oh that is interesting. Yes, but we had that quite a lot. We now, now it is a case of us trying trying sort of get above it. He comes up with all the ideas and then I make it make sense [laughs].
Margaret' Sometimes.
Daniel' And a bit of watching video.
Margaret' [laugh] He will.

Nicola talks about the music she likes and how she loves Disney films.

View full profile
Nicola' Oh my hobbies. I love music. It is one of the big things and I love drawing. Whether it is just a little bit of paper I just love to draw.

And what sort of music do you like?

Nicola' Oh don’t ask me that!
Mother' You will be here until tomorrow.
Nicola' I love everything whether it is soundtracks like from movies. A bit of sixties, seventies, mainly it is eighties and todays.
Mother' And films I guess.
Nicola' Oh yes. I love films. I admit I love Disney. My best feature.
Mother' And you like a good book.
Nicola' I love reading. I will read anything [giggle].
Mother' She likes topical stuff though don’t you; a celebrity in the news and all that sort of thing.
Nicola' Yes I don’t read…. I do have a lot of children’s books but mainly some of them are very old that I can’t throw away.

One woman said that she didn’t do much in her leisure time other than watch television and DVDs, and surf the internet. She did not go out “except to walk the dogs. I don’t really have a life compared to other people”. Several other participants talked about their love for animals and enjoyed walking their dogs. A few participants were regular churchgoers and found comfort in their faith. As Debbie said;

“I like the internet and email. I like doing cross stitch and knitting and I do that sort of thing to raise money for charity. And I am a committed born again Christian. I have a relationship with god and I attend a church in the next village to where I live several times a week.”

A couple of people reflected on the popularity of their interests.


Russell's interest in abstract maths 'isn't seen as socially normal'.

View full profile
Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 12
So that’s quite, it’s quite annoying and distressing sometimes. It’s quite depressing really not being able to fit in where everybody else fits in, because everybody really kind of builds themselves some kind of you know, their close knit community type thing, they, they travel in crowds or packs, and being around that many people is, it’s difficult because people tend to go off and gather into their own groups, according to what they do some like football, watching football on the telly, some like crazy house music and when I’ve, when I see all these difficult groups, there isn’t a group into which I fall because I’ve got interests which are different from everybody else’s. So, very, what some people would say unique interests but I’d say more, not so much unique but different from what would seen as the social norm. 
I mean I don’t think an interest in abstract maths would be seen as being very socially normal. You go out to these places have a good time, not to talk about differential equations and all these different things you can find, calculating approximately how big the universe is or something like that. 
Well I suppose the thing’s with friends is, having people who are interested in the item in which you’re interested. That would be very rare. Because I’ve got, you know, several interests and trying to match them all up with at least two or three people is very, very rare. I mean matching it up with one is not that common, but matching it up with two, three, maybe four. Just a simple close knit friendship is very rare. It’s not that easy.

Ian feels lucky that his interest in palaeontology is shared by many people.

View full profile
Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 8
Oh and they also had a profession palaeontologist there which is quite good on the day. We all went into that, because he, he was teaching us all about the different fossils that he’s found and seen, and, and we’d all ask questions and stuff and I tell you something he knows he’s stuff he does. So I learnt about off him, you know. He had like this massive T. Rex’s jaws, like this. We had to hold it, it was like my dream come true holding this real dinosaur in my hands, it’s like this is brilliant, you know, it was like… And I got those pictures as well, my friend took pictures and stuff it was really good.
It’s a nice interest you’ve got there
It is a good interest. I say most people… I say I’m lucky in that respect because I’ve got this friend called [name]. He’s got an obsession with, well, sometimes weird. He has an obsession with buses. Don’t ask me why? I don’t know. He just likes buses. Now for him, it’s hard for him to talk about his interests with other people because most people aren’t that keen on them are they? But with me, most people are keen on dinosaurs and stuff aren’t they? Because it’s like a… Like you work at a university and I bet there’s a palaeontology course at the university isn’t there? And most people I mean are into dinosaurs and palaeontology aren’t they, because there’s new stuff to find, there’s always, there’s something new everything isn’t there with it? And that’s why I’m lucky to have an interest to share with other people. Yes, I really am. [Addresses mother] You said I’m pretty lucky with that interest, aren’t I? To have that, you know. The same with my friend, my mate [name], he’s obsessed with cars and he’s lucky with that he just, he can share it with other people as well. So me and him are quite lucky in that respect. I think myself lucky for it really.


Last reviewed July 2016.
Last updated July 2016.

Previous Page
Next Page