Here are real-life examples of autistic circumscribed interests. A circumscribed or “narrowed” interest is very rarely found in neurotypical people.

The circumscribed interest is a great way to distinguish an autism-grade level of fascination (also called a special interest) with a neurotypical-grade or NT-grade passion.

After all, both Autistics and NTs the world over are “obsessed” with wildly popular topics such as anime, Pokemon, books, dogs, Disney princesses, sharks and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

The list can go on and on of shared interests between Autistics and NTs.

But what about the circumscribed interest?

“I hate birds,” begins Jess Owen, co-creator with her sisters of

“I hate them in the same way some people hate spiders, the way they look, the way they move, and if my cat ever tries to bring one into the house, it makes me feel sick and panicked,” continues Jess, who was diagnosed with autism at 25.

“But I love birds of prey. When I was younger I learned to distinguish red kites and buzzards by their silhouettes, and did extensive research into their habits.

“When I see something in the sky that could be a bird of prey, the conversation around me dies away, and I am utterly absorbed in working out what it is.

“If it is a kite or a buzzard, I feel a rush of excitement, and immediately inform anyone who’ll listen.

“If it’s a crow or seagull, I lose interest completely.”

This is a classic example of a circumscribed or narrowed interest: a deep, intense fascination with a component of a whole, or a facet of a parent topic.

Certainly, a bird researcher or ornithologist would also be intrigued by red kites and buzzards.

They’d notice them in the sky. But, would any conversation they might happen to be in “die” because that person became transfixed on figuring out if the creature in flight was a bird of prey or some crow or seagull?

The ornithologist or recreational bird watcher would also be interested in pretty much ALL bird species, or, at least, numerous species.

But even if an NT is interested in watching only a few select species or studies only eagles as a profession, they’re still not going to interrupt a conversation to analyze a bird in the sky, then “immediately inform anyone who’ll listen.” And for Autistics, that “anyone” includes strangers!

So one day I was watching TV in my living room when suddenly I heard what sounded like a tennis ball being slammed 50 mph into the nearby window pane.

In my peripheral vision I had seen an image that coincided with the sound: a greyish blur for just a second.

I immediately knew what it had been: A bird had mistaken the reflection in my window for sky.

The large bird had landed almost directly below the window and was writhing on its back.

I was transfixed. It was in its last moments of life, seizing from a crushed brain (the head was not visible due to the strange angle of its neck, but if that bird was conscious, it would NOT have been trying to get up, being that it would’ve felt agonizing pain just to move a millimeter).

After about a minute it went completely still.

When the TV show was over I promptly got on my computer – and a new special interest was born.

I HAD to find everything possible about birds fatally crashing into windows, including searching YouTube to see if any of these incidents had ever been caught on video.

I also found myself very frequently imagining that I was that bird, what that must have felt like upon impact.

  • Had there been any point, as the bird approached my window, that it then realized it was a solid barrier?
  • And if so, how close had the bird been at this point? 10 feet away? Five feet?
  • By the time its brain computed that there was a barrier, did it have time to decelerate?

I really, really gave all of this a lot of time in my head. The hyperfixation lasted about three weeks.

This was a bona fide circumscribed interest because I had absolutely NO interest in other ways that birds die, such as being gobbled up by buzzards, killed by cats or hit by cars.

This special interest also had not sparked any intrigue with birds in general or other elements of avian life.

Sometimes, the component of a whole, that captivates the autistic mind, is really, really strange.

On some level, an NT might understand how I could’ve taken to town my intrigue with birds dying by window pane. It’s an awful way to go.

But … what about car trunks that curve up at the end? Can’t get much weirder than that.

This was a circumscribed interest I had at around age eight. No interest in any other part of a car, and no interest in cars in general.

It was just those “curve-ups,” as I called them, getting so excited whenever I saw one go by from the big living room window. I couldn’t stop wondering, “Why does it curve up that way?”

Additional Circumscribed Interests of Mine

• Seizures immediately after head trauma, but not from other causes such as epilepsy or drugs (adult).

• Phone number exchanges: the first three digits of a phone number, but not other types of numerical identification (grade school).

• Different phonetic ways to spell female first names, but not other proper nouns like surnames or names of cities or countries (lifelong since junior high).

• Schizophrenia, but not other forms of mental illness (college age).

• Mental hospitals, but not other types of transitional or corrective facilities such as standard hospitals and halfway houses (college age).

• Hypothermia from mountaineering exposure, but not other mishaps from mountaineering such as slipping on ice or dehydration (adult).

• Eye contact in autism, but not other impaired forms of nonverbal communication such as inability to read facial expressions (adult).

• Tallness in women, but not in men (adult).

• Elevator crush deaths, but not deaths from other crush causes (adult).

• Why it’s wrong to hold onto a treadmill (adult).


Whew! That’s a LOT of circumscribed interests! And this list isn’t even complete.

Contrary to what some may believe, the special interest in autism doesn’t necessarily last a lifetime or many years.

Some Autistics move from one special or circumscribed interest to the next over a matter of months or even weeks.

This may be more likely when there’s very limited information on the topic, such as birds fatally crashing into windows.

If you’re on the Autism Spectrum and would like to share what some of your circumscribed interests have been, please post them in the comments section below!

Bookmark this page because I will be adding more examples of circumscribed interests as I interview more autistic people!

Jess Owen, along with her sisters Emily and Abi, run, about autistic sisters navigating a neurotypical world. Their goal is to spread information and awareness, and open up a conversation about neurodiversity that will make life easier for everyone.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


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