The answer to why it seems so many autistic people have train or dinosaur obsessions is actually quite simple.
Do you know any Autistics who can’t stop talking about trains or dinosaurs?
Perhaps you know a person on the Autism Spectrum who can answer anything you ask them about dinosaurs.
Maybe you’ve met one who knows everything there is to know about trains.
Or maybe they don’t know a whole lot about the history of trains, but they have quite a few model trains that they spend a lot of time with, and/or have many books loaded with pictures of trains that they can stare at for hours.
It seems to be either trains or dinosaurs when it comes to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Well, there’s a very simple, logical reason why it seems that an obsession or hyperfixation with trains or dinosaurs (sometimes both in the same individual) is so prevalent among autistic kids and adults.
And the answer is as follows: Trains and dinosaurs are hugely popular subjects among people in general.
- There’s something magical about trains.
- There’s something magical about dinosaurs.
- Who doesn’t think the T-rex isn’t cool?
- Who hasn’t rooted for the “Little Engine that Could”?
There are train museums, all sorts of books on trains, train themed tours, toy trains, cartoons with train characters, YouTubes about trains – and so much more – enthralling plenty of neurotypicals (NTs) as well as Autistics.
Same with dinosaurs, whether it’s Dino on the “Flinstones,” the “Jurassic Park” franchise, stuffed dinosaurs, dinosaur Halloween costumes or bedspreads and pajamas with dinosaurs on them.
Not to mention little dinosaur figurines.
So many people the world over just love trains and dinosaurs. So naturally, it only makes sense that autistic individuals will be part of this demographic.
But not all Autistics who love trains or dinosaurs are obsessive about these topics.
However, some are. These topics are easy to obsess over because there’s so much one can do with these interests.
In ASD, when an interest or hobby becomes very intense, it’s called a special interest.
It only stands to reason that special interests in autism will include topics that are wildly popular among NTs.
So of course, it’s not all that difficult to find people on the Spectrum who have a special interest in trains or dinosaurs.
But keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the average child or adult with ASD has any level of enthusiasm about trains or dinosaurs.
It’s not even known what percentage of people with autism have interests in these topics, let alone to an obsessive or very intense degree.
There’s also the phenomenon of “circumscribed” interests in ASD.
This means the fascination is confined to a component of a larger or parent topic.
An example is a hyperfixation on the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but not much interest outside of that when it comes to these prehistoric beasts.
I have a formal diagnosis of ASD. I’ve never had an interest in trains beyond going on sightseeing ventures via train with my parents. I’d be bored at a train museum.
I’m very interested in that meteor, though, but not to the level of a special interest.
But when there are TV programs about this catastrophic event, I will watch them.
And I saw “Jurassic Park” only once.
A hyperfixation is often on a component of a whole, but it can also be broader.
Autistics love to talk about their keen interests and even more general-level interests.
If you want to engage an autistic individual, skip the small talk and ask them about their current hobby or area of fascination.
A hyperfixation in ASD doesn’t always mean that the individual has encyclopedic knowledge, nor does it always mean that they talk about it every chance they get.
Some people on the Spectrum have monetized their special interests.
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.