Saturday 29 October 2016

Autism when people are in fancy dress

We were so pleased when our eight year old son with autism started using his imagination. After years of not understanding, Anthony suddenly became Ironman, Batman or the BFG. But it has also come with challenges. And this can be really hard at this time of year when people are going out in fancy dress. Just like Batman's mask is meant to strike fear into his enemies, the same happens for our son.

Anthony gets many of his ideas from films and books and we have to be there to answer questions, the questions we’ve taught Anthony to ask so he is able to understand that the movie or book is not real.

Using your imagination often involves thinking about being something you are not and looking at things from the perspective of another. This can be extremely difficult for some people and especially young children with autism. Anthony needed help to use his imagination. Put a sparkly pencil into his sister’s hand and despite being two years old she becomes a fairy princess. Anthony’s first dressing up outfits, however, had to be exact – the right colours, items of clothing etc. We now sometimes have the opposite difficulty.

Anthony can now be anyone on the television. However, Anthony takes things very literally. To Anthony, there is no difference between watching the news and watching Harry Potter. He once asked for a wand like Harry Potter but I knew he’d be disappointed when he wouldn’t actually be able to do a spell. When it comes to scary characters, Star Wars was the worst.

Anthony started having difficulty getting to sleep as he truly believed 'Darth Maul' was coming to kill him. We had to help Anthony understand what was real without dampening his imaginative spirit. At a time of year when many people are dressing up, this can cause him to become very afraid of going out.

As Anthony’s initial fears revolved around the ‘villains’ in films this is what we chose to challenge, and we started with Darth Maul. We talked about actors ‘pretending’ but this was difficult. Anthony is a very visual learner, so we showed Anthony a photo of the actor who plays the villain. There he was, no red/black skin, no horns, no pointy teeth and so on. This has been the key. Following movies and trailers, Anthony asks us to see the different actors. He sees who they ‘really’ are and understands their characters are not real. Batman - not real.

It’s even extended to asking who the ‘voice’ behind cartoon or CGI characters are. The Bloodbottler from the BFG - not real. This has allowed Anthony to enjoy the films, continue his play and distinguish between the pretend and the real on the screen.

So at this time of year, when people are out in fancy dress, we may ask them to remove their mask or features of their costume. This isn’t being mean, it’s simply a way of Anthony being able to understand what is and is not real. He even removes his own mask now when playing as his favourite role-play how involve him being the villain. "See mum, don't worry, it's just me."


  1. I never considered that autistic children might be confused by people in costume, but that makes total sense. I'm sure no one would mind if you asked them to remove their mask so he could see that they were just pretending. #EatSleepBlogRT

  2. I completely see how this might be necessary - I hope everyone was forthcoming enough to help him feel at ease. Glad to hear he's into the spirit of all things pretend! #EatSleepBlogRT

  3. Brilliant post hun! I know many people will never have thought of this. My big lad used to freak out at people in costumes when he was younger but now he usually just says - thats just someone dressed up mum isn't it to clarify and is OK. It's interesting that he has started asking less now. Thank you for linking up to #EatSleepBlogRT

  4. I am one of those people who is now enlightened to this, so thank you for sharing. We would all be happy to oblige, I am certain. Imaginations are so wonderful. I am glad you child is finding his. TY! #EatSleepBlogRT


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