Special Interests: The Dork Passenger

March 9, 2011

People with Asperger’s Syndrome really know our shit. Granted, that shit is most likely narrowly focussed and potentially obscure, but we really, really know our obsessive, particular and esoteric shit.

The well-researched and expertly regurgitated favourite subjects of a person with AS are generally referred to as “special interests,” but that’s a rather flaccid, ineffectual term for what actually goes on in my brain when I’m in the throes of such excitable nerdity.

As a fan of both Dexter and cheesy puns, I’ve taken to calling it my “Dork Passenger.” I imagine that the underlying impulses, the all-consuming need is quite similar in both of our cases. They only real difference is in our respective Passengers’ desires. While Dexter’s sibilant mental companion unfurls its wings and demands blood and death, mine furiously flaps its hands and squeals all sorts of constructive suggestions into my ear. Suggestions like “We need to learn more about DSV Alvin, the research submersible that our hero Dr. Robert Ballard was in when he explored the Titanic the second time!” or “Mom definitely wants to hear more about the destructive but intoxicating relationship between Beecher and Keller and how it was so painfully miswritten in season six!” or even “Yes! We definitely need to explain the finer points of the Eastern European roots of plyometrics to this guy we just met at the bar, because this is obviously an excellent party topic!!!”

The Dork Passenger can show up at any time and turn what might otherwise be a productive hobby or interest enjoyed with a sense of perspective and respect for the other facets of a well-balanced life and turns it a far more unwieldy beast. No amount of knowledge is ever good enough for The Dork Passenger. No amount of time is ever long enough to dedicate to its latest fixation.

The Dork Passenger can stay fixed on the same target for years, or it can leave as suddenly as it arrived. I’ll just wake up one morning, and find that the urgency and the magic aren’t really there anymore. Sometimes a lingering fondness for the object of obsession remains, much like normals might feel for a long lost love that was never meant to be, but the details never last. I keep a Titanic charm on a necklace these days, but I had to turn to Wikipedia for all of that stuff about Alvin mentioned above. I’d gotten Alvin mixed up with Jason Jr. which would have been a cardinal sin up to twenty years ago.

Over the course of my life, The Dork Passenger has steered me toward a bizarre hodgepodge of Most Important Things Ever, including dinosaurs (though, in my experience, saying an Aspie went through a dinosaur phase is like saying that a classic rock fan went through a Stones phase), the ruins of Pompei, JRR Tolkien, Dune, Canadian indie music, Big Star, a couple of foreign filmmakers, David Cronenberg and Dead Ringers, pro-wrestling, slash fanfiction and pro-wrestling slash fanfiction.

The way in which I explore these things has evolved over the years. What began as a strictly qualitative exercise involving strict numbers and facts has grown into more of an interest in qualitative observations. When I was at the height of Titanic-mania, I was all about memorizing things like the names of passengers, the song that was playing when the ship sunk and the time and date of the iceberg hit. When I was in the midst of my latest spell, this time with the HBO series OZ (yes, the girl who loved one of the most devastating losses of human life on the high seas went on to adore a TV show in which machiavellian monsters stick all sorts weapons and body parts into each other- there’s a sunny Asperger success story for you) I paid far more attention to plot lines, structure and characterization than I did to who directed a particular episode.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the giddy thrill of it all. It’s like a scholarly sugar high without the crash. Special interests get a bit of a bad wrap in autism literature, but I can honestly say they’re one of the two things I genuinely love about my disorder (my fascinating rain mannish ability to throw almost the exact same punch 20 times in a row being the other).

I won’t deny that the Dork Passenger has caused the occasional issue over the years, but they’ve been comparatively minor to any other AS-related drama I’ve navigated. Most of the problems I can recall off the top of my head are pretty amusing in retrospect. I’ve pulled some really weird shit over the years in the name of my favourite things, and I stand by almost every single stunt.

My only complaint with the whole phenomenon is that it has seriously amped up the intensity of my impostor syndrome. It’s almost impossible for me to understand what a normal sense of knowledge and expertise is supposed to feel like now. When you become an authoritative expert on anything while you’re still in kindergarten, everything after that is bound to feel a little half-assed.

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One Response to “Special Interests: The Dork Passenger”


  1. […] The Dork Passenger- about special interests […]


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