For those out there who follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve been pretty silent on all platforms for the last two weeks or so. This is because last week I got to go on a trip that I’ve been looking forward to for a really long time! I’ve been out in the badlands of eastern Wyoming collecting fossils with a group of other paleontology enthusiasts, something that fortunately wasn’t canceled by COVID because it’s an all-outdoor activity and distancing is the default.
We got the chance to collect on private ranches that had exposed rock from both the Cretaceous Lance Formation (Maastrichtian in age, for those knowledgeable of geology and/or earth history) and the White River Group, including both the Brule Formation and the Chadron Formation (mostly Rupelian in age). These locations provided us plenty of opportunities to collect fossils of dinosaurs (in the Lance Formation) and ancient large mammals (in the White River Formations). Nobody during the week managed to find anything that was of scientific significance, so we all got to keep the fossils that we found, which for me includes a weathered Hadrosaur caudal vertebra (most likely Edmontosaurus), a small Tyrannosaur tooth, several Triceratops teeth (including a rooted complete one), a thoracic vertebra from an animal called Champsosaurus (which was not a dinosaur but belonged to a different group of now extinct reptiles), a worn molar from a pig-like mammal called Archaeotherium, as well as many other fossils from other vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. I had a fantastic time being outdoors and luckily the others there were overall very nice to me and patient with me. Opportunities to legally collect and keep real dinosaur fossils are few and far between!
Now, if you are still reading I understand that I probably lost most of you with all the obscure four-syllable words in the last paragraph. But that’s OK. I wrote it because I enjoy the topic and like to write about my interests. In fact, interests in general is something I want to talk about. Autistic people are often deeply passionate about our interests, and these interests are frequently in obscure or narrow subject areas. These passions are sometimes referred to as “special interests,” but because this term appears to have a growing amount of stigma attached to it I am more and more referring to these autistic deep-interests simply as passions, because really that’s all that they are.
Like many autistic people, I find a great degree of joy in delving into the things I am passionate about. I like to research them, collect facts and information about them, write about them, and consume way more than your average amount of media about them. My deep passions include insects (and other arthropods), paleontology, metal music, and just biology generally to a certain extent.
Sometimes, autistic people are shamed for our interests, because people think our interests aren’t “age appropriate” or are “cringy” or just think that we talk too much about them. And honestly this is really unfortunate, because our interests will frequently bring us so much joy and satisfaction and play the important role of helping us stay grounded in a chaotic world. It’s unfortunate that some people would try to crush that for us because our interests take a different form in either subject or intensity.
So I want to encourage all my autistic readers to embrace your deep interests. Don’t worry about all the negative things other people say, focus only on the joy that the subject brings you. If no one in your life wants to talk about your interests, I bet you can find an online community on a forum or social media group somewhere with people who would love to talk about the subject! My favorite part about digging for dinosaurs in Wyoming was that I was able to talk to people who were very knowledgeable and passionate about paleontology and extinct life! I even learned a few things about how to look for fossils and read strata in rock exposure. If you’re community is not in your physical area I’m sure you can find them on the internet!
And don’t be afraid to embrace experiences related to your interest. Seize the day with what makes you happy! Make it a priority to have your own fun, even exploring your interest isn’t what most people would think of as fun! Be you! Embrace all of your interests!
Below are more pictures from Wyoming. The landscapes are rather stunning!