Although restricted interests have been one of the key components of ASD diagnosis since the criteria were formed, there has been little research into their nature and how they differ from interests typically-developing individuals hold. This mixed-methods study compared interests in a group of adults both with (ASD group) and without ASD (TD-SI group) who held a special interest. Results indicate that in many ways interests are similar between the groups; for both groups interests lasted many years, at times interfered in their lives, and also had many positive effects such as desirable affect and cognitive rewards. Ways in which the groups differed included the ASD group being more motivated by sensory and biological factors, and the TD-SI group being more motivated by connecting with others and achievement. Another difference was that the ASD group pursued their interest in fewer contexts. Results indicate that although restricted interests are a diagnostic criteria for ASD, like other symptoms there is a group of people without ASD who have interests that are very similar. They also indicate that regardless of diagnostic group membership, people’s interests may manifest differently depending on interest content. Interventions targeting changing the content of one’s interest could lead to better developmental outcomes.
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Thesis advisor: Iarocci, Grace
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