Here’s an uplifting encounter with a stranger who became teary eyed as a result of my autistic special interest (obsession).

I was at a major autism event in May of 2024.

And as with any big autism event, my eyes were on the hunt for one of my long-term “special interests” (another term for hyperfixation or obsession).

I always hit pay dirt at these events: that of spotting a kickass ponytail.

Yes, you read that right: a kickass, badass big voluminous ponytail.

This isn’t just a special interest; it’s a source of sensory seeking.

I call it a spim: special interest + stim.

Because not only do I want to take in the visual of a big fat ponytail, but I also want to feel it.

Because these are autism events, it’s actually quite acceptable (at least relatively speaking) for me to ask the owners of these ponytails if I could feel them.

This is after I size them up first with a compliment to gage how personable and inviting they seem to be.

Thus far, I’ve had 100% success: Every person whose ponytail I asked to feel let me feel it.

It’s an autism event, after all; they don’t exactly expect everyone to act “normal.”

So at this May event, I’m walking about and spot, from behind, this woman with a very dark, fluffy thick ponytail.

Ooooh, I made a beeline towards her, wanting to get my hands in that big fluffy curly ponytail.

She was with, presumably, her husband or boyfriend, and I came up to her from behind and started, “Excuse me.”

They turned and paused.

“You have a beautiful ponytail,” I said, with I’m certain, a look of joy on my face.

I could immediately see that the woman, perhaps in her late 20s or early 30s, was taken aback, thrown for a loop, simply overcome.

She thanked me and I promptly asked if I could feel it.

“Oh sure, go ahead,” she said, seemingly still rather stunned at my compliment.

I had a magnificent sensory experience as I embedded my fingers in the combination of coarse and soft hair, some of it wavy and some of it in corkscrew curls.

I explained that I was autistic and that this was joyful sensory seeking for me.

Not wanting to come off as too weird, I pulled my hand away and thanked her.

She began explaining how that morning she had been frustrated with her hair and decided to just put it up in a ponytail, and was not happy with the result.

She said that my reaction to her ponytail made her day.

I saw a tear begin to roll down her cheek.

She said something to the effect of how she had thought it was a bad ponytail.

I said something like, “Absolutely not; there’s no such thing as a bad big ponytail.”

We had a little small talk (yes, Autistics can do small talk when they’re interested), and I noticed that her other eye was welling up too.

At one point she dabbed away the moisture under an eye.

She again affirmed that I had made her day.

Likewise, I told her that she had made my day by letting me feel that kickass ponytail.

Then we parted ways; such a huge win-win!

So to all the neurotypicals who may have reflected at one time or another of how odd or strange an autistic person’s sensory seeking was, just remember this true account!

And this isn’t the first time this has happened, either.

I got a similar reaction (though absent watery eyes) from a woman at Walmart several years ago when I complimented her ponytail.

She said she had hurriedly put it in a ponytail after not having time to brush her hair and didn’t think it looked too good.

She got a huge surprise with my compliment, and damn, I could easily tell that it made her day.

I know that NTs think my hyperfixation on big fat ponytails is weird AF, but there’s always going to be an NT (and even autistic) woman out there whose day will be made by my compliment!

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. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick