Autism: What do you imagine?

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t believe autistic people have no imagination.

I do believe that just because you can’t accurately test for something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – and to the fullest extent.

“Three studies are reported that address the often described impoverished creativity in autism. Using the Torrance Creativity Tests, Experiment 1 found that children with autism and Asperger syndrome (AS) showed impairments. Experiment 2 tested two explanations of these results: the executive dysfunction and the imagination deficit hypotheses. Results supported both hypotheses. Children with autism and AS could generate possible novel changes to an object, though they generated fewer of these relative to controls. Furthermore, these were all reality-based, rather than imaginative. Experiment 3 extended this using a test of imaginative fluency. Children with autism and AS generated fewer suggestions involving attribution of animacy to foam shapes, compared to controls, instead generating reality-based suggestions of what the shapes could be. Although this is evidence of executive dysfunction, it does not directly account for why imaginative creativity is more difficult than reality-based creativity.”

“Impoverished creativity”. Isn’t that just the most awful phrase?

One of Ian’s paintings – ‘impoverished’ or creative genius? 😉

I have wondered many times over the years how active Ian’s imagination is – even in the earliest days, when he was in his room, chuckling to himself. What was going on in his head then? What pictures did he see that entertained him so? He was completely alone, and laughing like he was watching something really funny.

It could have been creepy as hell, but it was actually delightful.

However, when your child hears a piece of music you happen to enjoy, playing in the background as you drive around, and then asks the next day for “Brown red music, please, Mummy”, you know you’re dealing with something a little bit special.

The music was ‘Celestial Soda Pop’ by Ray Lynch on his album “Deep Breakfast”.

Does Ian have synesthesia? We may never know. But something was going on.

(“Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses – Synesthetes can often “see” music as colors when they hear it, and “taste” textures like “round” or “pointy” when they eat foods.” )

And while synesthesia isn’t specifically to do with imagination, it does give us a clue as to what is going on in the brain : colours and pictures. And imagination is all about pictures.

In the course of my (albeit very limited) research for this blog, I came across a very interesting article, written by someone on the spectrum themselves — he says “People see autistic kids lining up Hot Wheels or sorting Legos by color and assume there isn’t a whole lot going on in the imagination department. As someone who spent a lot of time in organizational-type play as a kid, I can assure you that I had a vivid imagination.”

(See full article here )

It was interesting, and as always, useful to get an ‘inside’ point of view.

Getting back to my son, however, I often flick through Ian’s internet searches on his iPad at the end of the day to see where his mind has taken him. Sometimes his journey is obvious – a succession of the music he enjoys, or snippets from his favourite films on YouTube – but occasionally, he has wandered into a realm where, if he does not have an active imagination, there is absolutely no reason for him to be there.

Like the day he’d Googled ‘green water splash’ —

Or ‘red circles’ (although, admittedly, he could have been experimenting with self-hypnosis with these, couldn’t he?) —

Or ‘Caribbean blue sea’ – after listening to the song ‘Caribbean Blue’ by Enya —

There is no reason for Ian to be looking at these images unless his imagination is somehow, in some way, working.

He goes to strange and unexpected places, this we know, but yesterday was a corker.

I went into Ian’s room where he was lying quietly on his bed with his iPad, and I sneaked a peek at what had caught his interest that day.

This was a new one —

The webshop for physiotherapy.

Seriously, what???

He’ll never tell us, of course, and that’s a real shame because I for one would have loved to have known the thoughts behind that search.

One thing was for sure : Ian was imagining something. I will never doubt that, and just because he can’t express it doesn’t mean I won’t feel joy when I witness it.

Every single time.


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