Tuesday 4 May 2021

Helping our autistic son figure out what is real

Storm trooper

We were so pleased when Anthony started using his imagination. Many children with autism struggle to use their imagination, at least in the traditional sense.  So when Anthony started Tree Fu Tom, Ironman and then Anakin Skywalker we encouraged it.  He can even go crazy and though he's close to teenage years can make a pretty good impression of Godzilla from the lastest Godzilla Vs Kong movie too.  Obviously this isn't real, but it's often still difficult for Anthony to know what could be real from a movie. 
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 Jane's hand and 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, he's really only just understanding the 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 came to Star Wars, 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.

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. It's even extended to asking who the 'voice' behind cartoon or CGI characters are.

This has allowed Anthony to enjoy the films, continue his play and distinguish between the pretend and the real on the screen.  On the other hand it's sparked a whole new area of anxiety in the realisation that some things he wasn't sure about potentially are real.  And that's a whole other thing for us to deal with. 


  1. That's interesting re the actor without the make up. I would not have thought of that. #KCACOLS

  2. This is so tricky, isn't it? It's great to hear that Anthony understands about it being an actor who plays a part, that's brilliant. But how to be able to judge what things that we see on telly, online etc that are real, and which things that aren't, that's really difficult... Especially when it comes to news stories, I think. I used to be pretty good at judging what 'news' were realistic and truthful, and which ones were exaggerated or even untrue. But this last year has been so strange, I'm no longer sure of my old points of reference... It must be really hard for kids growing up now, surrounded by so many false/fake/misleading images and stories, to develop a grasp of what is really truthful. And that's even before adding autism and/or learning disability to the mix!
    Thanks so much for linking up with #KCACOLS x

  3. When I think about the news and then 'the made up news' on a TV show they look the same, media is supposed to imitate real life so I can see how differentiating between the two could be very difficult. It makes me think of when they performed war of the worlds on the radio and people tuning in mid-way thought it was real. I think you're doing a great job at explaining the difference and the joy of Youtube and social media is that actors often show the make up process to literally show people how they become the villains. Maybe things like that would be useful.

    Katrina x

  4. My son really struggles with imagination. He relays things that he has heard or seen on telly. So funny as teacher goes he has a really good imagation when we know it is something he has read lol. X #kcacols


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