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Do ASD children tend to have more imaginary friends?

(31 Posts)
hereidrawtheline Wed 04-Feb-09 00:01:08

DS (AS or ASD) has a lot of imaginary friends which is lovely and doesnt bother me at all. I remember really enjoying my imaginary friends when I was younger. But he does have an awful lot of them and today it sort of changed a little. He was sat on the floor crying and angry, wouldnt let me touch him etc because he had a row of imaginary cars lined up in front of him that he could not pick up, and he wanted to pick them up and play with them. I just found it strange that it was his imaginary friends and his game but he still had this problem. It was very upsetting & frustrating for both of us and lasted around 30 minutes.

amber32002 Wed 04-Feb-09 06:56:57

We can do. And because we're not a lot of good at telling people apart from objects whilst young, imaginary friends can seem as relevant as real ones. Especially when real ones turn out not to be friends at all, or do scary things all the time.

Maybe a 'social story' to help him develop his story line a bit with the cars? We can get very stuck on how to solve an imaginary problem once we've invented one (or real ones!). How did you and he solve it in the end?

hereidrawtheline Wed 04-Feb-09 09:09:38

thanks amber I was hoping you would see the thread and give your opinion.

He is very attached to his friends. You know he wont hold your hand if he is already holding one of them in his hand. They are all very tiny, not life size friends. Usually he carries them in his palm. Its quite sweet really, only upset me when as I said it was almost as if his imagination turned against him.

The distress over not being able to pick them up lasted a long time and I couldnt help. Eventually I persuaded him that he should rest and try again later. As it happens he never went back to it.

Webstermum Wed 04-Feb-09 09:50:16

My ASD DS has loads of imaginary friends & my other DS who is Nt does not. Not sure if this is ASD related or just because they are different children. Sometimes it can work in your favour if you are trying to get him to open up about something you can ask what does x think about that? Never had them upsetting him though - they're usually much nicer to him than 'real' friends smile

Peachy Wed 04-Feb-09 09:53:02

AH well timed thread

ds3 has an other mother. 2 actually! When ever we want hoim to d something there's a risk that 'my other mum said no'

Now I hear you say LOL- he is finding an excuse.

Well no, its often things he really wants to do or eat.

I also heard him alon last night yelling 'shut up' which scared me a bit.

Webstermum Wed 04-Feb-09 10:15:54

Sorry can't help with the other Mum thing - haven't come across that one, yet! My DS often shouts out when he is alone, he goes into his room & shuts the door & seems to be working through things that have happened during the day. Not sure if he re-enacts what he did do or, more likely, what he would like to do or say - hence the shouting. If it helps him to get it out of his system it can only be a good thing

hereidrawtheline Wed 04-Feb-09 10:28:01

It must be unsettling for your DS to have an imaginary mother or two. I dont know what to say about that - does it upset you at all?

DS's friends are usually very tiny things he looks after or little companions. This was a totally new thing having them almost in league against him and it really upset me. Its almost as if his own mind is playing out his limitations. But I would prefer he had no limitations on himself in his imagination.

amber32002 Wed 04-Feb-09 11:34:38

This is really difficult to explain.

It's a good thing when we first realise that there's a difference between an object and a person, or between a real object and one that is in our imaginations. But that first realisation is often a painful one, because it changes the way we think about the world.

To you, it might be totally obvious that a car or toy is not as important or valuable as a friend, but our world is very very different and objects have huge significance for us. It takes a lot of years to learn this, for some of us.

Having an imaginary friend/mum/set of toys can be a very, very useful thing if it lets us get through stressful situations that we cannot control. Finding a way to set good boundaries for a child, so that they don't live entirely in their imagination, is important though. Social stories can help a lot.

Peachy Wed 04-Feb-09 11:48:28

The extra mum doesn't upset me too badly, at first i thought he meant his 1-1 but now know it's not The 'shut up' bit did though- he sounded distressed but came in 20 seconds later beaming.

Wills Wed 04-Feb-09 12:28:01

But what about if they think secretly that they are something else? My dd1 thinks she's a unicorn in disguise as a human. Should this be discouraged? This fantasy is relatively harmless but the last one involved her believing that a couple of italians on the campsite we stayed on last year were really goblins disguised as humans and she proceeded to follow them around the campsite, spying on them which for an 8year old is not safe! So should I discourage these types of fantasies?

Peachy Wed 04-Feb-09 12:53:12

Wills ds1 believes he's a dragn in disguise (to which he attributes his aggression).

I didn't realise this wasn't unique- and Unicorn is so close to a dragon!

Anything that puts our kids at risk is something we have to discourage. It'snot unusual asd behaviour to follow poeple and spy on them (again, ds1 is big on spying) but we need to find ways to make it acceptable- trying to get ds1 birdwatching (with early signs of success) but on holiday he will watch and follow other children if we are not careful; I tend to explain t parents his fdiagnosis as a 9 year old in the hedges growling culd be somewhat unnerving (in any other section that would make quote of the day LOL) but the dragon elief is so deepset- i feel it's the explanation he has for the animalistic side of his personality (he growls, claws etc) but he has to learn to temper that.

Webstermum Wed 04-Feb-09 12:58:22

DS used to believe he was a dinosaur (his favourite subject). When he was having trouble coping he used to revert to dinosaur mode which some people found a bit scary but it was like a comfort-zone thing for him. Has become less frequent as he has got older (now 9). Funnily enough he's into birdwatching now too

hereidrawtheline Wed 04-Feb-09 13:04:28

Its fascinating isnt it. ASD is so misunderstood. You hear so much about "lack of imaginative play" etc. And here we all our saying our children virtually live in an imaginative world at times.

I understand the "lack of" criteria includes the repetitive nature of a lot of this play, i.e. not a new imaginative game every day, I just find it interesting as the average person would rightly assume ASD children were simply not imaginative - even if they were getting all their info from reputable websites such as NAS.

I worry about DS as he is supposed to start preschool tomorrow (!) and will be around other children without my protection. I worry someone will step on one of his friends and upset him.

Peachy Wed 04-Feb-09 13:10:38

The imaginative thing is complex- Sam smight be imagining a dragon to us, but to him it's really part of him and he cannot compehend that distinction between imagination and relaity, it's theory of mind type stuff <<makes my head ouch>>.

It's a complex area- for a while nursery said ds3 couldn't be asd as they saw him playing regularly with the Little People sets but all he does is assemble the places: the dad and bed go heere, the slide goes here etc- once done the play ceases. But it takes time and understanding to tell the difference.

amber32002 Wed 04-Feb-09 13:21:37

Lots of us have brilliant imaginations, but as Peachy says, it's complex. I can imagine all sorts of really complicated objects and how they might interact with each other, e.g. car engines, machinery, etc.

But ask me how Fred interacts with Sid, and I'm totally baffled. So any imagination I have about people is very restricted, very reptitive, gradually ever so gradually trying new ideas out over years and years to see if I can make my brain look at the info on more than one person at once.

Quite a challenge when part of my job is to co-ordinate lots of different people for things like conferences and make sure they know what they're doing and don't fight wink. An important word is "oops", I find. And working with other people to double-check what I'm doing.

Marne Wed 04-Feb-09 14:40:21

Dd1 (AS) has a friend called Marv, he comes shopping with us and plays at school with dd's friends. She also has a cat called Olive and a pony called Pedro. Dd1 has had imaginary friends since she was 2, Marv has been with us for 2.5 years.

apollo11 Wed 04-Feb-09 15:11:06


hijack! (sorry, but i have been dying to ask you)

are you a susan howitch fan?

hereidrawtheline Wed 04-Feb-09 18:52:35


Darling Ginevra of course I am! grin If you want to talk books email me at senatorvass at gmail dot com!


Back to the subject my brain hurts. After HV today and my total fear of this quagmire I am in.

mumslife Wed 04-Feb-09 19:34:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

5inthebed Wed 04-Feb-09 20:25:05

My ds2 has a lot of imaginary friends. His main ones are his hands and my toes. He will sit there and have a full blown arguement with his hand (although none of it makes sense as he is only semi verbal) and very often starts smacking the hand he is shouting at with the other one. He gets very upset with his hand on many occassions, cries and screams and has a meltdown.
My toes on the other hand always make him happy. They make him giggle when they move, he likes to babble on to them, play hide and seek with them and so on. They are a very good distraction method as well when I'm feeding ds3.

I'd love to live in ds2's little world for 10 minutes just to see how fantastic it is.

Buckets Wed 04-Feb-09 20:59:52

Oh you guys have some real sweeties[smiles]. I know some of you are worrying about it but I just had to come one and say 'aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh'grin.

Any fiction writer will tell you they have entire worlds in their head and that they are not in charge of what their characters do. Sometimes characters literally walk into their heads fully formed (eg Harry Potter apparently.) The fiction writer is a personality type and there are plenty of novelists on the spectrum so it's a perfectly possible conmbination. Maybe when your LOs are more confident with

sphil Wed 04-Feb-09 21:15:28

DS1 used to have an alter ego - Tigerslayer - that he definitely used as a coping strategy in the playground. Tigerslayer had a group of 'Disney friends' that would come to his aid or play with him when he was on his own. I really believe they helped him get through those first difficult years of primary school. Now he is much more socially integrated and confident he very rarely mentions them.

Mumslife - your post made me smile in recognition - DS1 talks to himself a lot and very often thinks he's said something aloud when he's just thought it!

Peachy Thu 05-Feb-09 08:31:59

Buckets ds1 wants to be an author0- in 2 months of specialist dyslexia input he has gone from------

age 4 reading to-----

age 12 and 8 months shock

I have had a fair few things publsihed over the years also, I am starting to hope he ahs my 'talent' although as I read faitrly fluently at 2.5, I had given up.

madwomanintheattic Thu 05-Feb-09 09:17:14

dd2 has a whole other family that she visits every night, and that occasionally come round. she has a sister called chloe and recently her other mother had a baby.
she also has had a strong relationship with miss hoolie (of balamory fame), who sleeps on the top bunk in her room. one day miss hoolie had gone whe she woke up and she was distraught for about three hours, just kept sobbing 'she's gone'.

i'm guessing it's just a way of her practising scenarios in her head (like amber sugessts) that will eventually disappear, but invisible land is a large feature of her life... she's not asd btw, i wondered if you thought there was a particular difference between asd imaginary friends and other childrens? i can see that asd children mightutilise the coping strategy aspect more frequently, but i wondered if there was a difference in the actual imaginary relationship or how the 'friend' manifested itself in day to day stuff?
(dd2 has cp btw - my nt kids didn't have imaginary friends at all)

amber32002 Thu 05-Feb-09 09:25:04

Hmm, no idea if there's any research on the sort of imaginary friends different children would have. From my own point of view, imaginary friends when younger were very stereotypical and I'd repeat the same scenarios hundreds and hundreds of times. If you imagine someone writing a novel about a character, they'd normally go into huge detail about their appearance, their characteristics, their actions and way of expressing themselves. If I wrote one, you'd be lucky to get the colour of their hair, and I wouldn't be sure to remember their name from one page to the next. Others with an ASD have much better people-skills than that, but it does mean that imaginary friends might as well be stick figures hmm. Now if you ask me about imaginary buildings, I can tell you every detail in every room right down the books on the bookshelves...and be able to visualise how every room looks from every angle including above and below.

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