Sometimes individuals with autism can seem to be living in a fantasy world, oblivious to the real world swirling around them. Our friends may repeat movie scripts over and over or they may sing a phrase from a “Barney” song over and over again, even when they are 25 years old. Do we want to interrupt that fantasy world? And, if so, how can we help individuals focus on reality?
When it comes to distinguishing between the real world and the imaginary world, we might want to keep in mind that many of our friends with autism interpret most of what they see and hear literally. We must not assume they can discern the difference between fact and fiction.
So my friend who spends much of her day quoting the script and singing the songs from The Little Mermaid may be assuming that Ariel’s world is, indeed, the real world. She has watched the video hundreds of times over the past ten years, so she may not have a frame of reference that allows her to draw a clear line between reality and fantasy.
Granted, the Little Mermaid video is effective in calming her explosive, destructive behavior at home and at school. Other families and teachers use long-time-favorite videos to help calm agitation and hurtful behaviors, or to allow an individual with autism time to unwind after school or work. Do we want to deprive our friends of their classic favorites?
Each situation is, of course, different, but we might want to think in terms of degree. It might be good to start introducing a bit of variety in the video choices so our friends are not totally dependent on one particular video that may become age-inappropriate over the years. And we can purposefully connect individuals to materials that are, indeed, based on actual people, events, things, and places so they get a glimpse into the real world.
I find individuals of all ages on the spectrum of autism are often intrigued by books, magazines, and videos focusing on actual events, places, and things. There is a growing selection of books, magazines, shows, and websites about real topics – animals, transportation, places, science, history, inventions, cultures, food, and other interesting themes. Many use actual photographs or realistic illustrations that help distinguish them from cartoons or imaginary stories.
TIP FOR THE DAY: Think carefully about the “media diet” of your friend with autism, realizing that fantasy may indeed be interpreted as reality.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com