Special interests and inclusive academic learning: an autistic perspective

Frederik Boven (University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Publication date: 1 October 2018



Many people with an autistic spectrum condition have one or more “special interests” which is more restricted, and which they pursue with more than average intensity. The purpose of this paper is to offer a first-person perspective on inclusion of special interests in academic learning. The paper describes examples of special interests of university students and offers recommendations for university teachers.


The author combines the emerging strategy of using his own autobiographical material as research object with the more establish method of conceptual analysis.


The author finds that special interests can be a source of academic strength, but can also interfere with learning. The paper argues that including special interests in academic learning is an effective way of including students with autism in higher education, but requires some special provisions.


Existing research has focused either on the special interests of persons with autism or on their inclusion in education, but the combination of these two issues has rarely been considered. The paper addresses this neglected topic from the inside perspective of a former student with autism who, after completing a research master’s in philosophy, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 34. The author combines this inside perspective with knowledge of the theory and history of autism.



Boven, F. (2018), "Special interests and inclusive academic learning: an autistic perspective", Advances in Autism, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 155-164. https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-05-2018-0020

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