Breaking Through the Restricted Interests Barrier


You know the story.

Almost everyone does.

This year, Jake and Caleb finally read this well-loved story for themselves for the first time. They read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White from cover to cover.

Charlottes Web

Reading Charlotte’s Web is a significant accomplishment for my two boys for a number of reasons. Throughout our Happy Blue School homeschooling adventure, Jake and Caleb have consistently invited me to utilize a variety of motivational strategies to unlock different pathways to their leaning success. With many kids on the autism spectrum, their interests are specific and sometimes quite rigid. They have the potential to become specialists in an area of interest or expertise. And that’s fantastic! However, it also poses a challenge. How do we expand their interest and attention to other topics so they have a broader understanding of the world in which they interact and live?

When we first began the Happy Blue School four years ago, this was one of our biggest hurdles. Of course we could incorporate their restricted interests to motivate their learning. And we did. A lot. Over time though, it became one of my central goals to expand Jake and Caleb’s reading interests beyond one central theme or set of characters. Thankfully, flexibility, creativity, and the ability to differentiate learning tasks are easily applied in the learning process in a homeschool setting. In addition, I offered Jake and Caleb choices within the various reading themes over the years. By allowing my boys to select what they read within the framework of a specific theme, they felt empowered.

So, when I assigned Charlotte’s Web, as a novel study, it was no big deal. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is for me when I consider where we started!

However, just because they are willing and interested to read a new book, doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to incorporate their interests and strengths to new learning experiences. Since the boys love words, and E.B. White was absolutely fantastic with words in Charlotte’s Web, we created a large web of words. Each chapter the boys would select two words each to place on the alphabet web on our classroom wall. It developed into a challenge as the boys searched chapter by chapter for words from every letter of the alphabet. In addition, not only did the words serve as vocabulary enhancers, but they also became spelling words too!


Here are some of the words the boys captured in their web:



Like I said, four years ago, the boys’ areas of interest were very limited and restricted. Today, that is no longer the case! Jake and Caleb are eager to learn about whatever new topic is presented and for that I am grateful and so very, very, very pleased! For in my autism research last year, my belief that motivation centered on choice was reinforced. Autism research indicated that “motivational variables such as choice and natural reinforcers during intervention lead to improvement of core symptoms of autism” (Koegel & et al., 2010, p. 1057). For my two boys, I can wholeheartedly tell you that this is true. However, it doesn’t happen over night! It’s a step by step, deliberate process.

And at the Happy Blue School these efforts are paying off! Way to go, Jake and Caleb! We are definitely making progress word by word, book by book, and theme by theme!



Koegel, L. K., Singh, A. K., & Koegel, R. L. (2010). Improving motivation for academics in children with autism. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 40. 1057-1066. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-010-962-6




2 thoughts on “Breaking Through the Restricted Interests Barrier

  1. Oh yea! I find my little “teacher’s heart” beating rapidly for you! I celebrate your success and congratulate you for accepting the challenge and seeing the results! That is no small accomplishment. Thanks for sharing, Heather!

    1. Thank you, Barb! It’s a big deal. And we’re grateful! Blessings, heather

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