My Special Interests and their Importance
Stephen McHugh (00:21):
Hi there, Stephen McHugh here, Stephen's Evolution. Welcome to another episode of my podcast where I plan to talk about special interests, what they mean to me, especially in terms of how they've helped me and just be aware that I do talk about climate change.
Very briefly, you can skip this section if you want to. Please consult the show notes for this. I'm back following a month long break from podcasting. The past month for me has been rather hectic, especially as there has been a lot going on with me, including including a few family related events. Things have now quietened down for me for now.
Stephen McHugh (01:17):
Anyway, if you're listening to this for the first time, a bit more about me and this project. I run this podcast alongside a blog which are both connected to my project Stephen's Evolution, where I talk about life with Asperger's. I aim to help and provide hope to others through my own personal lived experiences. My experiences with Asperger's include social deficiencies, hypersensitivities, including certain noises, and more importantly, delays in my language and speech development, which impacted on my education and learning. However, I have managed over the years to overcome obstacles related to being on the autistic spectrum.
Stephen McHugh (02:18):
I have a range of special interests myself that I'd like to share with you, including their importance to me in terms of how they've helped me to evolve. Some of my special interests that I plan to talk about have been triggered by my inquisitive nature and the fact that I like to explore and investigate things that take my interest in my words. Special interests are areas or topics of intense focus where one can find themselves wanting to read over and over a certain topic of interest, learning obscure facts about it to the extent that you perhaps talk about it at great length to someone.
Stephen McHugh (03:12):
Anyway, let's get down to what my special interests have been over the years. Firstly, I'd like to talk about my interests in weather and astronomy. My interest in weather seems to have stemmed from the fact that I liked sunny weather 'cause it meant you could get out and do things raising your moods. It would also result in me asking my own questions, like how does rain form? How do storms form? What causes thunder and lightning? along with rainbow formation. One interesting thing linked to the weather that I wanted to know was how hot lightning was, which I now know to be around 30,000 degrees centigrade.
Stephen McHugh (04:05):
Coming across the water cycle helps me to appreciate the fact that both rain and sun are vital for life to survive, including plants which are the start of the food chain. In the past, I have received weather related presents, and I would use them to see how fast the wind would blow and how much rain would fall by seeing how much a container would collect and measure.
Stephen McHugh (04:40):
Nowadays, as my general understanding has improved, I like to look at weather patterns over the longer term to predict what kind of weather we might have at some point in the future. I like to look at projected positions of what is known as the jet stream, which is caused by temperature contrasts of air. You have warmer air to the south and colder air to the north, and where these two temperature gradients form, that's where you get low pressure systems forming.
Stephen McHugh (05:20):
In the summer, nowadays, I like to use such weather patterns to predict whether or not we will have a heatwave. And if I see the jet stream as to the north of the UK, that leads me to believe there's a chance of hotter and more settled weather, and being under the influence of higher pressure. If the jet stream is to the south of the UK, the weather is likely to be cooler and more unsettled with rain at times.
Stephen McHugh (05:52):
There is an important weather topic in the form of global warming, which is to do with the overall temperature of the planet increasing, increasing the likelihood of more extreme weather events. This encourages me to get out more, walking more and appreciate the sights and sounds of the natural world. At some point in the future, I'd like to have a go at planting some trees as they tend to absorb some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is a gas that happens to trap heat, which results in the overall warming of the planet. So yes, I like to try and do my bit to help the planet for the sake of future generations.
Stephen McHugh (06:49):
I believe my interest in astronomy really got going when I observed an eclipse of the moon through a neighbour's telescope many years ago. Seeing an enlarged view of the moon and one of the planets opened up a whole new world for me. Seeing a whole new and far away world excited me greatly. In the years after that, I made the effort to learn names of stars and star patterns in the sky, such as when they would be visible at various times of the year.
Stephen McHugh (07:30):
I also liked in learning names of planets and facts about them. Nowadays, I like to try and understand how all the planets, the sun, the solar system and the universe came to be, and the science behind it, since my general understanding of things has improved and may help to extend my understanding to greater depth.
Stephen McHugh (07:57):
I also like to pay close attention to how science may reveal clues as to whether may be possible signs of life elsewhere, such as by measuring the composition of possible chemical compounds in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a particular star. I have done a blog post about the James Webb telescope and how it may help to reveal such clues.
Stephen McHugh (08:31):
I sometimes wonder how the universe might end, which from my understanding may depend on how much dark matter may be present. Too much of this may result in the universe collapsing or less of it could result in it expanding further. The more mass there is, the more gravity comes into play.
Stephen McHugh (08:57):
Some years ago, there was one star party at a local astronomy club to me where I got the chance to look through large telescopes at faraway celestial objects, including a particular globed shaped star cluster. Going to astronomy meetings enabled me to connect with and share with other people my interest in astronomy. Whenever I've had the chance to do some star gazing, it's helped me to feel relaxed in quiet settings whenever I've stood under a clear sky. Out in the country, on occasions I've been in awe at the amount of stars compared to being in and around city lights.
Stephen McHugh (09:52):
Other special interests of mine I'd like to talk about are related to piano and music and learning foreign languages. I started to learn the piano when I was around about nine, and quickly I realized that I had a natural talent for music and piano playing in the years that followed. I liked to try and master tunes by famous composers like Beethoven and Chopin. Such compositions would enable me to try out a greater range of notes, which I felt myself exploring new and interesting places. Whenever I wanted to calm down and de-stress, I would choose to play a tune that would be more slow and more quiet.
Stephen McHugh (10:55):
Music when I look at it and think about it can help us with our problem solving skills. When it came to more difficult pieces, the idea was to try and break it down into more manageable steps and practice one or two sections at a time, at a slower pace, gradually increasing as it got easier and your hands got used to any complicated movements, much like breaking down problems into simpler steps and slowing down.
Stephen McHugh (11:33):
Whenever people have listened to my piano playing and been appreciative of it, this can help me to feel part of a group which can help to stir happy memories for me. When I was a young boy, there was a neighbour, a music student, a very friendly young woman at the time, somebody who I could like have a smile with. She showed an interest in my music and would sometimes invite me round to show my ability.
Stephen McHugh (12:09):
Music for me has some degree of logic involved in it. Certainly in terms of pattern recognition. This can include certain notes which may tell you how fast or slow to play particular music piece, and music language, which may give an indication as to how loud or soft to play the music itself. This leads me onto another thing, a connection between music and learning foreign languages, certainly in terms of pattern recognition, which can be rules telling you how to put words together to make meaningful sentences.
Stephen McHugh (13:03):
Another musical skill I'd like to mention here is known as perfect pitch, which is being able to tell which note on the piano was being played. Studying foreign languages can help with memory development along with music too. Learning foreign languages can involve having to learn grammatical rules and words. With music, it can involve memorising a whole song and now onto my interests in maths and computers. My interest in maths seems to stem from my love of numbers, particularly large ones. What fascinated me even more was that there is no biggest number, nor is there any smallest number.
Stephen McHugh (14:09):
I like to try and do difficult mental arithmetic using relatively large numbers. This was evident in me at school. Other children would be amazed at my ability to do difficult sums without a calculator. Working out the distances of the stars in terms of miles and kilometres, and to other distant celestial objects gave me an idea into the scale of the universe, certainly in terms of its size.
Stephen McHugh (14:48):
In addition, I liked to try and work out the number of seconds in large amounts of time, such as in a year and in a lifetime. Maths can help us to view the world and universe in ways that nobody can. It can also help us to open new doors into ways in which we can solve problems once we have a better understanding of a particular maths topic or concept.
Stephen McHugh (15:25):
Two large numbers I know of is one Google, which is one with 100 zeros after it and 10 to the power of one. Google is known as Googleplex. As far as I know, I can't think of there being a googleplex of anything, which for me goes to show how large a number it actually is.
Stephen McHugh (15:59):
And now onto my interest in computers. What fascinated me about computers was how they worked, and how data was displayed on the screen. In my late teens and into my early twenties, I began to understand it was all to do with how data was represented. Data in computers is represented by ones and zeros, which is binary. It is all to do with logic gates, which are circuits within the computers themselves, and other electronic devices. It involves having switches in the on position, which is in a closed position representing one and an open switch in an off position, which is represented by a zero. This would give me an insight into how calculators could calculate sums themselves.
Stephen McHugh (17:06):
Doing work related to computers can help with problem solving too. An example of this was when my website was temporarily down. Looking at the error message, I could work out that it was due to a particular plugin that I didn't need. When I deleted the plugin, my website was back up and running as normal. One thing I've learned here is that computers can be useful in terms of designing websites to provide information that can be useful and helpful to to the relevant audiences out there. It can also involve working out what codes to use in order to get your website to carry out certain functions, and how to get it to display the way you want.
Stephen McHugh (18:08):
Other interests I'd like to move on to are writing and photography. These are relatively new interests to me. It is through creative writing that I can create my own world based on my interests, thoughts, and personal experiences. My interest in creative writing has got stronger over recent years, especially as my language and communication skills have improved considerably. I used to take a more literal view of more complicated views of language, including idioms. I have now got an interest in idioms, and a blog post consisting of short stories where I aim to try and make it easier for those with autism to understand idioms more easily. For me, these have been opportunities to improve my language and communication skills further.
Stephen McHugh (19:23):
As for my new interest in nature photography, one thing this does for me is gives me an opportunity to get out into the fresh air and record nature in action, such as a bird in flight. It also helps to instil a sense of calmness. While I listen to and appreciate the sounds and sights of what nature has to offer when the autumn time comes around, I like to photograph the variety of leaf colours and range of colours during sunsets. The variety of shapes and patterns of clouds I find can help me develop my eye for detail in the form of trying to spot symmetries under the patterns. Such sites can help to inspire story scenes. For me, the variety of colours and shapes reminds me of the range of skills and unique strengths of those of us with autism, along with all the challenges we face and any that we may have overcome.
Stephen McHugh (20:42):
It is known that our brains can process visuals faster than text. Certain scenes I find can evoke positive feelings of hope and prosperity, especially where there is light involved, and that's all there is for my personal interests. To summarize, personal interests are important for me where autism is concerned. I saw improvements in my language and communication skills when I was given the opportunity by my mum to do creative writing based on my personal interests and experiences of everyday life.
Stephen McHugh (21:32):
Trying to incorporate special interests into one's learning can lead to increased cooperation and concentration. Teachers and parents should therefore, in my opinion, encourage children to use their special interests where it comes to their learning and education. This reminds me of a time in junior school when I was allowed to do projects based on trees and music, which was different to what the rest of the class did, as it was felt that I wouldn't get much out of whatever the rest of the class were doing.
Stephen McHugh (22:21):
Another thing I'd like to touch upon where special interests are concerned is to find groups that are related to a particular interest of a child. At these sessions, there can be opportunities for improving team working skills and social skills as well, especially where Lego clubs are concerned. There can be a possibility too of forming useful connections and friendships. My musical ability provided me with an opportunity to join a church orchestra from which I was able to develop useful friendships. From there onwards, I was able to develop my social skills even further.
Stephen McHugh (23:19):
One downside of special interests I found can be the tendency to spend too much time doing them when it is perhaps better to find a balance with doing them and spending time socializing with other people in order to develop social skills. One way around this could be to have like a timetable saying you can do your special interest from whatever time to whatever time followed by socializing in any activities others may be engaged in. Having said that, special interests can be a great way to relax and de-stress from the stresses of everyday life.
Stephen McHugh (24:10):
Other points I'd like to mention here include turning weaknesses into newer opportunities, possibly leading to newer interests, along with developing problem solving skills and an appreciation of other things.
Stephen McHugh (24:33):
Thank you, if you've made it this far, if you've found the episode informative and it's resonated with you in some way, why not let me know about it via my contact page on my website or my email there. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram. You can also find a link on my homepage to a separate page where you can sign up to receive news of newly released episodes and in the near future.
Stephen McHugh (25:08):
I plan to have a dedicated Facebook page to my Project Stephen's Evolution, where one will be able to share and read tips about how to live well on the autistic spectrum and why not let me know what your special interests are and how they may have helped you on your journey with autism. If you wish to leave a review or a rating, you can do this on Apple, Spotify, Podchaser or Podcast Addict. Goodbye for now and I'll talk to you all again soon on the next episode, where I plan to talk about how I feel I've progressed with both my blog and podcast, and what I feel I have learned from doing it.