Autistic People and Imagination

When they say autistic people don’t have imagination and don’t engage in imaginative play, what do they mean? I knew I had imagination, and that was one of the biggest things holding me back from thinking I could be autistic, because that was something always stated and listed and formalized. Autistic people don’t have imagination.

I never really was into playing school or house, like other kids were (why would you be a grown-up when you could be a HORSE?). But I would play all sorts of imaginative games with my cousins and my sister and myself.

I played Orphan Kittens. We played all sorts of games with our stuffed animals and model horses. Admittedly, we often wrote out the scripts before and they were usually similar patterns that happened… but that is a trait common to children. (You notice it when you babysit or have younger siblings or really just encounter things like that).

We played Lord of the Rings and went on quests where grapefruits or a pomegranate were palantir. There was a game where we were princesses that also involved horses and we would switch roles between them back and forth. We also played a lot of complicated games involving chickens and occasionally my cousin’s goat which we were all afraid of, but those were not always imaginative games–I don’t really remember the point of them, so they are a bit irrelevant.

In 4th grade, I made snail houses and fairy houses and for one brief moment, I was a trendsetter when everyone else in 4th grade also made “fairy friends”. (Although I was a bit upset that they treated it as a game, because I at least half–probably more–believed in it). I played games where the swings were the way to outer space and the only way back was to go down the slides. I was good at coming up with games and stories, so as long as everyone else was still young enough to play stories and pretend at lunch, I had company. They grew out of it earlier, so I switched to books.

And I lived in stories and books (and still do) despite the best efforts of literature analysis to beat that love out of me. And I still half-live in a world of stories, although I read much less than my high school minimum of a book a day. (I have a lot more reading to do of other materials than I did in high school.) (Also, I don’t like going new places myself which is why I haven’t been yet to the [non-campus] library even though I love libraries.)

Anyway, on any given day, I’m about 80% sure I’m autistic and I’ve had official professional people agree with me, so I just wanted to summarize this to say that autistic people can be creative too and that is a silly requirement to say they can’t.

Cuddles and snuggles and hugs OH MY!!!

I like physical contact with people.

Wait–let me revise that. I like some kinds of physical contact with a select group of people. And then lots of snuggles and cuddles with animals.
I don’t like sudden touches. I don’t like when people sneak up behind me and put a hand on my back. Or on my shoulder. I would prefer to initiate the contact, or know it is coming.

It is grounding for me. I like to interact with other things that are alive. My plants are lovely, but they just aren’t very cuddly. I do like holding hands. Especially holding hands and swinging arms. I do this when I walk with my cousins. I like wedging myself into a warm pile of cousins to watch tv or a movie or talk.

I need regular physical contact with warm, living things to stay grounded and to keep me from flying away.
Physical contact helps keep me present.

When I got back to my apartment after a long day of traveling and delays (not too bad, luckily I managed to pick the only flight that day that was delayed for one hour (all the other ones between the city my parents live in and where I go to school were at least 4 hours late, and the flights the day before were often cancelled. And today is just horrible weather.) I was tired and a bit stressed. But I muddled through things and went to the store because I had no groceries. Then boyfriend came over and because I know I am safe when he is here, I stopped having to try to hold things together again.

So we cuddled and talked and I felt like I was flying away in a bad way. When that happens I flap and shake my hands and legs to try and keep me here and to feel like I am still here. Boyfriend knows my unhappy/stressed/flying away flaps. And he knows how to calm me down and hold me super tight so I stay here and don’t fly away.

When I’m feeling disconnected, physical contact, the right kind of physical contact, warm and lots of pressure can help me stay. It is important. If I’m alone, I’ll go under my heavy blankets and try to get some of it, but its not the same as a person.

I also love holding hands. I hold hands with boyfriend when we walk places. I will hold hands with most other people, too, if they will let me. (Most people don’t.) But my cousins and I often hold hands when we walk places together or are just hanging out together. I like knowing where the other person is and the warmth of their hands and the weight of their hands and swinging our arms together.

What more people will do with me is link arms and walk. A lot of my college friends would do this as we walked. It was quite nice (although a traffic impediment). I’m not sure why people seem more willing to do that than hold hands, but I don’t really understand people all that much anyway.

But I am not all that fond of hugging strangers. And to me, with my prosopagnosia and strangely large extended family, there are a lot of people that are “strangers” to me that I still have to hug.* But I was thoroughly trained into this when I was younger. So I can usually handle hugging strangers even if I do not like it. Especially when they are actually little old ladies who are related to me.

On that note, I am also rather annoyed by the fact that shaking hands seems to be coming less and less popular and common. I was at a work party for boyfriend, and as we were leaving and saying goodbye, several people insisted on goodbye hugs. At a formal work event (for a formal accounting company, too) and to me, too, who they had literally met at the beginning of the party. Admittedly, alcohol was involved, but I just don’t understand why shaking hands isn’t a thing in those circumstances. I can tolerate hugging the strangers that are actually family, because you do weird things for family. But why on earth would you want to hug one of your coworkers girlfriend who you met two hours ago? Anyway, people are strange.

I am autistic and I love physical contact.

I am just specific on the people and kinds.

Also related:
What hugs mean to one autistic person and Hugs from E. at the Third Glance


*Also, in college at Mass, everyone would hug during the sign of peace. That was a mixed bag. Because I didn’t like hugging strangers, but usually also people would hug me who weren’t strangers but that I would never ask for a hug and during my lonely time** freshman year it was sometimes the only time I got physical  contact the whole week so that was also important. But this sort of distracts from the organization. So I’m putting it down here.
**Although I did start dating boyfriend extremely early in college, I was really really shy and also a bit confused about what to do with a boyfriend, so it took a while before I really got even to the holding hands stage with him. Like several months. Eventually I figured out that boyfriends are good for hugs.

Rules, Rules, Rules

The best post I’ve read on rules was by Musings of an Aspie. It is far more eloquent than what I am going to say here. (But it isn’t completely how my rules work, since, after all, I didn’t write it.) But you should definitely read hers first if you haven’t, because it is absolutely brilliant.


I like rules.

I stick to rules.

I have them for a lot of situations.

For things I do everyday, all the time, not as much.

When I talk to my family, I don’t worry as much about the rules. (Only a few rules then apply.) The rules for talking to my family are so everyday normal ones (when I am home regularly) that I don’t have to think about them.

Mostly they are manners.
Eat with your mouth closed.
Don’t put your elbows on the table.

And posture.
(My mother is very into that.)
Shoulders back, head up.
Walk with purpose.

(Learning to walk with purpose is useful. People seldom ask you where you are going when you walk with purpose.)

I assume most people are taught a lot of these rules.

When I talk to a stranger, there are a lot of rules.

Eye contact. Maintain eye contact. But not consistently. About 80% of the time. (I have a lot of practice in this so I usually only have to remind myself a couple of times. Although, I generally just stare at their face in general.)
Be polite (what a lovely, vague rule).
Shake hands when you first meet.
Stand still.
Don’t talk about controversial topics.
Say hello and stand up when someone new walks into a room.
Direct the conversation back to them.
Ask questions.
(People like talking about themselves. Conversations are a game.)

Remember names
(This rule is impossible. Well, not quite, but I can never remember the faces that go along with the names.)


I was asked if I ran my life by rules, principles, or understanding. And to me this seemed an incomplete question.

My understanding of you is built up of … well, not quite rules. But of things very similar to rules.

More like observations.

It would be more accurate, maybe, to say that for me, life is more like science.

I observe.
I look at all my observations.
I make them into hypotheses and observe some more to test them.

Starting specifically.
I gather up observations.
After staying up until 4 am, your voice is lower than normal.
When you tell me you worked all night and only got two hours of sleep, your voice is lower than normal.
When you are talking to me before you fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, your voice is lower.

Eventually, I gather a hypothesis. When you are tired, your voice is lower than normal.

I test it out over time.
It seems to hold consistent.

Sometimes they are things I can generalize to people in general.

Raised voice means angry.
Laughter is good.

Maybe this is why I took to science so well. I’ve been using the scientific method my whole life.

In orientation for my Ph.D program, we discussed the scientific method.

It seems simple.
It is simple.
It’s just not easy.

And that’s very true.

My parents seemed to know that this is how my mind works (generally). They gave me rules for things to do, but most importantly, they explained the WHY of the rule. Knowing the WHY of the rule helped apply it to the situations it was relevant.  And most importantly, the situations where the rule WAS NOT relevant.

When the why WASN’T explained, things happened that weren’t supposed to. Or were just utterly useless.

Look behind you before you change lanes. (So I looked directly behind to the back of the car. Not to the blind spot. Because they said look behind you. And I thought it was silly, but it was a RULE of driving, and I certainly didn’t know everything.)

But once the WHY was explained, then I actually checked for oncoming cars. It didn’t just give me situations to apply the rules, it made them work better.

Knowing the whys of rules makes the world a less confusing place. Knowing the whys makes rules easier to remember. But knowing the whys is usually something I can’t figure out myself (especially social-wise). And this is where parents come in, where friends come in, where cousins come in, where boyfriend comes in. Because sometimes they can explain the whys.

Multiculturalness and thoughts on family

So I am 1/4 Indian. (My Nana is from India.)

That is an important part of my life. Even though I basically look 100% white. And I’ve had people tell me I’m lying when I tell them this. I’ve had to show them pictures of my grandmother to prove it.

And my Nana lived in a basically 100% white area since she married my grandfather. My mom and her siblings grew up as the only “ethnic” people in their school. The isolation probably helped contribute to the alcoholism that affected my mom’s childhood. And that lead to differences and rules in how I was brought up. This is where the importance of keeping up appearances and the need to fit in comes so strongly from.  The overwhelming importance of belonging and of making a good impression. (While at the same time, about being independent.) This family is the one that fiercely guards its secrets. Things are not spoken about directly but passed along in whispers. But I sit quietly and I hear whispers. I have good ears and people forget. And people just tell me things. And I watch. Even my family, my wonderful family. This is my safe family, where I am free to be strange and free to bounce and flap and dance happily. But only in private. Only with just family. 
Because we are taught strongly the importance of impressions.

We are taught strongly about keeping things in the family.

To the world, we do not tell our secrets.

This is not the family that mingles naturally. At group events and parties we would be quite happy to hide in our group of cousins. But this is the family that is forced and taught to mingle. But it probably is because of this that we are the ones that are forced to mingle.

This is the family where there are rules about mingling and drifting and appropriate socializing (some of this is also because this is the lawyer-family). But we were taught the rules of this, as well. Because this family does not mingle naturally, but we all knew the need for it. The importance of it, the social effects on it. We were taught the rules of conversation. How to ask questions and answer them and how to direct a conversation.*

The Indian side of my family is almost certainly the side of my family where my autism is inherited from.

And then there are the traditions and habits we have. The way I pronounce “us” and “theatre”. Always taking off shoes when we enter the house. Samosas as appetizers at every party. Late late late nights and dinners and start time. (Does thanksgiving dinner regularly start after 10 pm? Why I can’t remember the last time it started earlier…) we grew up with stories of how delicious fresh mangoes were and stories of Hindu gods (even though my Nana’s family are Catholic). The constant stream of visitors from foreign countries (a lot of them moved out of India) made me so used to a variety of accents that I never understood how my friends could have so much trouble understanding professors.


Cultural appropriation

We always dressed up in the clothes brought back from India for Halloween. (And other times.) Because they were so beautiful. And we liked to pretend we were from India, where my Nana grew up and where we heard stories.

But is this cultural appropriation?

My nana is the most recent immigrant from any country. All the others have been here a while, many more generations. So I am a mix of American (made up of various European immigrants) and Indian.

So, on enrollment forms and stuff, I’m always a bit conflicted. I suppose I should choose white/caucasian for them, since that is what I mostly am. I look white. I get the benefits. I don’t want to cheat.

My undergraduate school only had one option, once you were enrolled (which was strange because on the application, you could put multiple). So they chose Asian as the part for my enrollment (we were not a very diverse university). (Even though I had out both on my initial forms). And I always felt like a bit of a fake. Because I had all this clearly white privilege stuff because basically that’s what I look like.


I was filling out enrollment verification and student information stuff for my graduate program AND they let me put UP TO 7 CHOICES under ethnicities. And they are specific, too, because I am always concerned if Indian counts as Asian, because sometimes it seems to not.

And that was exciting, because I am both. 3/4 and 1/4. And it has influenced my life and I do like having the choice to put down both.

Because I am both. 
(And I am neither alone).
And I was glad to be at a school that lets me put both down on this probably small, unimportant piece of paperwork.

Related thoughts:
Kassiane A. Sibley’s Open Letter to Identity Police
* I am not nearly as good at this as some of my cousins, but I think because we were specifically and concretely taught conversation rules as long as we could talk, this is one of the big reasons why I can function relatively well socially. (And probably a big reason for the delay in diagnosis.)

I do not like green eggs and ham

At home, we quote.

When I do not like something, I say “I do not like green eggs and ham”
(The response is, “I do not like them Sam-I-am” and usually someone will respond with it).

Go dog go.
Stop dog stop.

Red fish, blue fish.
One fish, two fish.

Do you like my hat?
Yes, yes I like your party hat?

(Can you tell we like Dr. Seuss?* It’s peppered into my daily language.)

Talking in quotes is a form of echolalia, I believe. Quoting quoting quoting. Repeating things already said, either immediately or delayed.

(This one had a little star, this one had a little car.
My what a lot of fish there are.)

We have ways we say goodbye.
“Goodbye, loooove…. Goooodbye love. Just came to say gooodbyyyyyeee love, gooodbye…..”
(That was for singing at cousins. Loudly. As we chased the car down the road.)

We sing a lot. Sometimes instead of talking. Sometimes we will switch the words to fit the situations (but mostly we will just pick a song that fits the mood or emotion we want the other person to know instead and keep the original words).

Sometimes for hours, I don’t use my own words. (Sometimes instead, we just rhyme all the time.) We can craft whole conversations from things already said or written once. The sentences are already made. We just have to pick them up and say them.

My whole, extended family does it.

Is it normal? (Does it matter?)

“I don’t know, go ask your mother.”**

*Although Go Dog Go isn’t Dr. Seuss.
**That’s from Hop on Pop!