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.

I think I’m still autistic

For background, read this.

I went through the DSM V with my mother last night (because I don’t notice things I do that other people do not do, because a lot of the time they are normal to me). (That’s the same reason I had my mother come with me to the diagnosis/testing place. And also because then I could avoid talking to people at the front desk.)

And I decided that I am probably most likely still autistic.

They covered the social and sensory issues. That was definitely, 100% agreed. So I guess the only things I’m missing are in Part B (The restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, etc.)


B1. Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects;(such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia,repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).

  • Stereotyped or repetitive speech
    • Pedantic speech or unusually formal language (child speaks like an adult or “little professor”)

Yup. This was how I talked when I was little (once I started talking, which took a while. I used large words frequently (although they were often mispronounced, since the words were usually things I picked up from reading.) My mom didn’t mention that I spoke strangely when I was little because she thought I was just smart, and I don’t know how specific they were on this question.

    • Echolalia (immediate or delayed);may include repetition of words, phrases, or more extensive songs or dialog

Yes! Echolalia! I love that words. It’s so wonderful. Again, we didn’t mention this because this is what our family does…talks for hours in quotes. So we didn’t realize it was unusual. Also, I do the thing Alyssa talks about here, where if I am excited about something, I’ll just repeat it over and over again, instead of saying yes. (Do you want ice cream? ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM!) I didn’t realize that was echolalia, either. Also, echolalia is just such a lovely word and I am so glad I found it.

    • “Jargon” or gibberish (mature jargoning after developmental age of 24months (I don’t really know what this means so I’ll ignore it)
    • Use of “rote” language (this too)
    • Idiosyncratic or metaphorical language (language that has meaning only to those familiar with the individual’s communication style); neologisms

In kindergarten, I went to speech therapy because only my family could understand me when I talked. I’m not sure if this counts though, or if I was just a really unclear speaker.

    • Pronoun reversal(for example, “You” for “I”; not just mixing up gender pronouns)

Haha. Yes. I do this all the time. My best friend in high school used to complain about how when I was talking to her, I would use “you” to mean “I” all the time.

    • Refers to self by own name (does not use “I”) Not as far as I know.
    • Perservative language (note:for perseveration on a specific topic, consider B3)
    • Repetitive vocalizations such as repetitive guttural sounds, intonational noise‐making, unusual squealing,repetitive humming

I used to make strange sounds when I read, apparently. I was trained out of that, though (I imagine it would have been annoying, especially as I read pretty much constantly.) I also hum a lot if I get stressed or nervous. Except this one has been shamed out of me (especially in college. I realized when I got home that I am so much quieter than I was when I went to college…when people could HEAR you everywhere!) /was distracting in school (and I think that was a valid point, since I would find humming distracting)

  • Stereotyped orrepetitivemotormovements
    • Repetitive hand movements(e.g., clapping, finger flicking,flapping,twisting)
    • Stereotyped or complex whole body movements(e.g.,foot to foot rocking, dipping,&swaying; spinning)
    • Abnormalities of posture (e.g.,toe walking;full body posturing)
    • Intense body tensing
    • Unusual facial grimacing
    • Excessive teeth grinding
    • Repetitively puts hands over ears(note: if response to sounds, consider B4)
    • Perseverative or repetitive action / play / behavior(note: if 2 or more components,then it is a routine and should be considered under B2)
    • Repetitive picking (unless clear tactile sensory component,then consider B4)

I do a lot of these. I do a lot of strange things with my hands. I like to count each finger. I like to touch things evenly with each hand. I  play with rings and bracelets a lot. They were generally smallish things. I think these didn’t get picked up because when I was younger, I was constantly moving. (My mother’s words: “I don’t think I ever saw them still unless they were reading”). Also, I think I picked up a lot of things in college that I didn’t do before I left because of added stress and more demands on me, and different coping mechanisms (here from me or here from Zoe). I also bounce on my toes. I swing my legs when I sit, if I’m not sitting cross legged. I rock sideways on my feet. I pace. I do a lot of stuff.

  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of objects
    • Nonfunctional play with objects(waving sticks; dropping items)

I just want to say here, WHO DOESN’T WAVE STICKS? Isn’t that what they are for? For being swords and stuff? We also built a lot of general stuff.

    • Lines up toys or objects

I don’t think this is the intended meaning at all, but around Christmas when I was little, I would line up stuffed animals to spell out the number of days left until Christmas. I started sometime in November.

    • Repetitively opens and closes doors (NOPE)
    • Repetitively turns lights on and off (NOPE… Although if I had, that would have probably been trained out of me because of power inefficiency)

B2. Excessive adherence to routines,ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change;(such as motoric rituals, insistence on same route or food,repetitive questioning or extreme distress at small changes).

  • Adherence to routine
    • Routines:specific, unusualmultiple‐step sequences of behavior
    • Insistence on rigidly following specific routines (note: exclude bedtime routines unless components orlevel of adherence is atypical)
    • Unusual routines

I am a fan of routines. I like when things are the same. I like when I know what is going to happen next. I don’t know if it is unusual, though. (It probably is. I do get upset when they are disrupted.)

  • Ritualized Patterns of Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior
    • Repetitive questioning about a particular topic (distinguish from saying the same word or phrase over and over, which goes under B1)
    • Verbalrituals ‐ hasto say one ormore thingsin a specific way orrequires othersto say things or answer questionsin a specific way
    • Compulsions(e.g. insistence on turning in a circle three times before entering a room)(note: repetitive use of objects,, including lining up toys,should be considered under B1).
  • • Excessive resistance to change
    • Difficulty with transitions(should be out of the range of what is typical for children of that developmental level)

Oh my goodness. Yes. I wrote a whole post about this. (HERE!)

    • Overreaction to trivial changes(moving items at the dinner table or driving an alternate route)

My parents got a new dining room table when I was gone. I have not forgiven them yet. It makes our house look different. I do not like it. (And things like this).

  • Rigid thinking
    • Inability to understand humor

My mom says this. I just think there’s just a lot of things that people mistakenly think are funny. Because when you ask them why it is funny, a lot of the time they don’t have a good answer.

    • Inability to understand nonliteral aspects of speech such as irony or implied meaning

One of my nicknames growing up was “Literal Girl”. I have trouble finding the second meanings of words all the time. I think this applies.

    • Excessively rigid, inflexible, or rule‐bound in behavior or thought
Well, excessively is a bit harsh, but I do love rules. I’m sure I will talk about them later.

B3.Highly restricted,fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus;(such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
Preoccupations; obsessions

  • Interests that are abnormal in intensity

Probably. I was VERY into horses and reading. We didn’t realize this earlier because my intensity was just encouraged by my parents. (What parent doesn’t want their child to read?) Also, my family tends towards this anyway.

  • Narrow range of interests

Apparently, if I have no interest in what other people are doing, I will just ignore it. I thought I was better at hiding this, since that’s polite (although my mother may have been talking about when I was younger.)

  • Focused on the same few objects,topics or activities

Yes. These all really seem to be the same, though. I was very very focused on horses (and to a lesser extent, dogs). I spent large portions of second grade pretending I was a dog. I would bark at people. My second grade teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to wear a collar I made out of paper at school. I had a horse encyclopaedia I read cover to cover. I was also very, very, very into reading. We had to have rules set on reading. No books before breakfast. No books when guests are over. And so forth. And now it is biology! (And still reading.)

  • Preoccupation with numbers, letters,symbols

I’m not sure what preoccupation is, but I sure did love numbers and letters. We were told stories about them.

  • Being overly perfectionistic

I’ve tried to work on this. I think I’ve gotten better. My parents have been working on me with this since I was little, I believe.

  • Interests that are abnormal in focus 

What is the difference between this and the first one?

  • Excessive focus on non relevant or nonfunctional parts of objects

Well, I really like to look at gears and stuff and watch them move. But gears are very functional.

  • Preoccupations(e.g. color;time tables; historical events; etc) What is the difference between this and unusual interests?
  • Attachment to unusual inanimate object(e.g., piece of string or  rubber band)

I liked rocks.

  • Having to carry around or hold specific or unusual objects(not common attachment objects such as blankets,stuffed animals, etc.)

See above. I liked to carry around rocks. I like the way they feel in my hands. I like to play with them. I carried rocks in my pockets in high school.

  • Unusual fears(e.g. afraid of people wearing earrings) Not that I know of.

B4.Hyper‐or hypo‐reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment;(such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects,fascination with lights or spinning objects).

Yup I’ve got this part, so problem! (No need to do the subcategories for sensory, since it was “officially confirmed” already).

So basically, I think from all of this, I think I’m still pretty autistic. And that makes me happy. Because that is what I want to be. I want to be autistic, and I think I am. All is well.

Not autistic enough

So today I was tested.

(Well, not really tested. They didn’t want to test me because it was expensive and I have a graduate student stipend and I don’t really need too much in the terms of accommodations as far as they could see. And I was unclear of what I wanted since I couldn’t tell them how much I wanted to just belong, although I tried.)

So instead they walked me through the diagnosis (or informally tested me).

And told me that I would have qualified for Asperger’s.

But that doesn’t exist anymore.

And that I’m not autistic enough.

Except for social issues and sensory issues. I qualify under those apparently.

(By the end, I was a bit lost and confused because there had just been a lot of talking in the room and I could see the clock and it was one of the analogue types that you could hear ticking.)

So I’m not all that certain what was decided.

Last month, I would have been autistic.

Today apparently I am not.

(And really, I don’t know if I am or if I’m not, now.)