Autism: Fantasy Versus Reality

For the majority of my 9 year old autistic son’s life, he’s lived in a fantasy world made up of fictional characters. He becomes those characters. He believes in them. To him, they’re real.

It’s escapism. A way of coping with a confusing world and I understand it because I’ve lived in a fantasy world of my own, particularly as a child. One thing my mother picked up on was how I was never ‘here’. The reason for that was that ‘here’ was (and still is) overwhelming and causes me a great deal of anxiety.

As I grew older, I escaped into music and books. Music conjures up vivid imagery to me and my mood changes with tempo. It would seem that I am wired to physically and emotionally react to music.

Music provides me with the protection that my imaginary world once did with fictional characters. With music, I’m physically here, but mentally (spiritually) I’m elsewhere. Walking down the street becomes a tolerable experience with my ear buds in. I know that people can see me, but I am anesthetized to them and the environmental noises that make me anxious.

I need escapism. While it’s not the same world I inhabited as a child – my need for an alternate universe remains the same. The difference is that I understand what is acceptable (and what is not) of me as an adult. But make no mistake – when I listen to music or lose myself in a book, I am as far away as I ever was.

Being autistic, I don’t have interests, I have obsessions and one of mine is death and true to my autistic self, if I can find a way to weave my obsession with mortality into a conversation, I will, but don’t worry, I haven’t gone off on a tangent. It’s relative, so bear with me.

I don’t see my interest in death as being morbid. It’s something that is going to happen to me, so I need to familiarse myself with it because – the fear of the unknown, right? I’ve already planned my funeral and one of the songs I have chosen is David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

You see, Bowie knew a thing or two about misfits. He knew that they would identify with his style – visually and musically – thus making him a very rich man. Arguably, one of his best tracks is Life on Mars – a song which Bowie labelled, “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.” For me, it’s reminiscent of own crushing disappointment with reality. I was the ‘girl with the mousey hair’ watching movies over and over (and over) again – wondering why reality could never live up to them. I know that my family will struggle to understand the song’s meaning, but if ever a song existed that was my song – it’s this one.

In fact, in my fantasy world – Bowie wrote it for me, innit?

A lot of autistics live (or have lived) in a fantasy world and if you understood how hard it is to live on a planet that’s not compatible with your needs, you would understand why this happens. The bottom line is this: Our imaginary worlds are where we have complete control over ever single thing that happens.

Control is something that we have little of in the ‘real’ world. It’s the reason we flounder through life – succumbing to mental illness. Some of us will take our own lives. Many of us will die prematurely from stress related conditions and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The rest of us will struggle with chronic health conditions that won’t kill us, but which will impact our already limited lives. But inside our mind is a place where we can be ourselves. A place where we don’t have to fight to be heard or accepted. A place where we can be ourselves, without fear.

How sad that this is the stuff of fantasy, instead of reality?

This is our reality.

I know how crap this world can be. I know how unkind human beings can be, so I indulge my son’s need for fantasy because I understand his need for escapism. The real world disappoints. It hurts. It makes us anxious. I wish that I could spare him all of this, but I know that one day his imaginary world will no longer protect him. I dread that day, but I know that it will because this isn’t our world. It isn’t autism friendly. Not yet. Not by a long way. This is why so many of us describe feeling as if we are from a different planet. We’re aliens having to work exceptionally hard to try and fit in here.

In our fantasy worlds, we live, rather than exist.

In reality, we exist, rather than live.

Whether escapism is being a fictional character, or losing ourselves in the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book – it’s important that we do it and it’s important that people, especially parents, understand why.

“For a child with Asperger’s, especially a fantasy subtype, fantasy can become an obsession. If fantasy becomes an obsession, it may take therapy or perhaps medication to correct the situation. Do not hesitate to contact a psychologist for help if your efforts are unsuccessful. A child locked in fantasy is a child lost to reality.”

I came across this on a website specifically for parents of children who have Aspergers.  The last sentence in particular suggests ignorance of the importance of escapism and it’s function. Is intervention really in the child’s best interests? Or is it another example of autistic children being forced to adapt so that non-autistic people can feel more comfortable in their presence?

Our autistic lives revolve around escapism and obsessions. If a child’s obsession involves wearing a Jason mask AND nicking your kitchen knives, it’s probably best that professional help is sought – pronto. Otherwise, leave them be. Escapism is serving a purpose. It’s keeping them sane. The important stuff is going in. Nobody was more ‘locked in a fantasy world’ than I was as a child, but I do understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s just that reality overwhelms me, so I need to intersperse it with frequent visits to my fantasy world – medication not needed.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” ~ J.R.R Tolkien

 

 

The Lion, the Witch and my Wardrobe

When you’re an adult, a wardrobe is just a piece of furniture. It’s somewhere to hang your clothes and store boxes of old photographs from when you were young and energetic, not to mention packing a full set of hormones. To a child, however, it’s a porthole into another world especially if they’ve read (or seen) The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe..

The plot, of course, is that four children are evacuated from London in World War Two and sent to live with a professor who lives in a large country house with big wardrobes. The youngest child, Lucy, has a root round the Prof’s house and finds a wardrobe which also happens to be a portal to a magical land called Narnia. Having pushed past all the moth-balled infused fur coats, she wanders out into a forest where there is a lamppost. Here she meets a dodgy looking bloke who invites her to his house for tea (always say no, kids) but it turns out that this bloke, Tumnus, intends to betray her to Narnia’s resident evil overlord known as ‘the White Witch’. The White Witch has ruled over Narnia for, like, ever, keeping it in a permanent state of Winter. This is to keep the Narnians in their place though it may be due to a bad case of hayfever she had once, who knows? Anyhoo, old frosty chops has an intense dislike for humans so the Narnians are under orders that, should they happen across one of the blighters, they are to turn them in or she’ll start removing fingers/claws/whatever. Tumnus is well up for a bit o’ betrayal in the beginning but changes his mind when he realises he likes Lucy. Oops! Now he feels proper shit that he wanted to hand her over to the Refrigerated One so he does the decent thing and takes her back to the lamppost which is where it all goes tits up. You know how it goes…

When I was about 8 years old, Mum and Dad bought a wardrobe for my room, well, actually it was a combi-robe which was a combined unit of a mirror, shelves, drawers and a single wardrobe. However, to me, it was more than a piece of furniture..

I liked to sit in my wardrobe.

There, I’ve said it.

Thing is, I used to feel safe in there, especially if it had been a bad day at school.

It was a confined space, even for me, who was of Borrower proportions, but I could sit in my little wardrobe, close the door, and cry it all out without anybody knowing..

I was also familiar with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by then, having read the book and seen it on TV so I would re-enact it because my imaginative play was always about acting out what I’d seen in life or on TV.

The concept of a magical world being accessible from inside my wardrobe fascinated me. What would I have given for it to be true? Only, in my magical world, evil witches wouldn’t be allowed because there was one of those at school masquerading as my class teacher..

A few years later we moved house and two things stopped me throwing the MOTHER of all meltdowns. One was Dad buying me the new Adam and the Ants LP and the other was the walk in wardrobe in my new bedroom. Never mind sit down, I could go horizontal in this one! WOOHOO! The wardrobe also had pretty brass knobs on which I liked to mess with.. which did not please my mother.

“Have you been messing with these ruddy knobs again, Madam?”

“Er, no” and I’d leg it downstairs as fast as my fluffy slippers could carry me.

One of my favourite wardrobes, EVER, was my Nan and Grandad’s because it was JUST like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and yes I did shut myself in it until the whiff of moth balls put me into a coma, Not sure about Narnia but I did find a nice clasp handbag filled with various corn plasters and a few furry Polo mints..

It was easier to re-enact the story in an 1800s Gloucestershire house than in my 1960s built bedroom. More authentic, y’know? Well, as authentic as it can be until your mum walks in and bollocks you for ‘rooting’ through your Nan’s things..

I’m not sure how old I was when I finally stopped sitting (not a typo) in wardrobes. No doubt marriage and motherhood left me with little time to indulge my love of wardrobe interiors. Also, they were jammed full of cricket paraphernalia, old shoes and other such crap that builds up when one has to share their abode.

Then there was that incident where one of the kids mistook their wardrobe for the toilet. *shudders*

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Narnia existed though, eh? Without the resident bitch, of course.

How fabulous would be to have a really shit day and declare, ‘SOD IT. I AM OFF TO NARNIA!’ Though knowing my luck (and tendency for catastrophic thinking) I would most likely step out into the forest and be instantly mauled to death by a psychotic beaver..

Maybe I’m too old for sitting in wardrobes but I will never be too old to revisit Narnia via the book..

See you there?

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”

C. S Lewis ~ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay