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Common Sports, Hobbies Often Popular Among People With Autism

Study undercuts notion that these individuals only focus on specialized pursuits

WEDNESDAY, May 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The stereotype of a person with autism often includes a "hobby" focusing on a highly specialized, obsessive activity.

But a new study finds that -- just as in typically developed people -- people with autism often love sports, books or just watching TV.

"Adults with an autism spectrum disorder [ASD] expressed an interest in many of the same hobbies and activities that non-ASD adults enjoy," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

He reviewed the findings from the study, which was to be presented Wednesday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City. Findings from medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The new study was led by Sebastian Pacey-Smith, a graduate student at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. His team said that "hobbies make up an integral aspect of people's everyday lives. In [people without autism], these activities foster social relationships, increase positive emotions, increase skill and knowledge acquisition, and generally improve quality of life."

But what about people with autism? To gauge the range of interests for individuals with this developmental disorder, Pacey-Smith's group had nearly 400 adults with an autism spectrum disorder complete an online survey. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 73, and were asked to list their top five hobbies or interests.

The study found that 99 percent of respondents did have some kind of hobby; almost 40 percent had two hobbies and more than 35 percent had three or more hobbies.

While nearly all (97 percent) had an intellectually focused hobby (for example reading, World War II history or video gaming), about one-third listed music or some other art form (such as theater) as a favorite pursuit, and another third enjoyed sports. Almost 14 percent said they engaged in a "social" hobby, which might include autism advocacy, caring for their kids or sexuality.

"The results demonstrate that interests are broader than typically conceptualized," the researchers concluded. "That is, although many participants reported highly specific interests (e.g., geodesic domes; collecting 78 rpms records), many also reported a large number reflecting typical interests (e.g., snowboarding, reading, watching TV)."

Adesman said the findings might be surprising to some. "Almost every adult with ASD indicated they had at least one outside interest or hobby, and three-quarters indicated that they had two or more outside interests or hobbies," he said.

More information

Find out more about autism at Autism Speaks.

SOURCES: May 13, 2015, presentation, International Meeting for Autism Research, Salt Lake City; Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, New Hyde Park, N.Y.
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