Helping Peter See What Is Imaginary

Children with autistic spectrum disorders see the world in a concrete way.

One of the goals for children with an autistic spectrum disorder is to enable them to see things in a less concrete way. I learned long ago to watch my words, but am starting to realize Peter looks at other things concretely too.

Peter can play pretend now, but he will often break through those pretend moments to be sure the other person he is with knows he is just pretending. He seems to almost be convincing himself that this is imaginary. He will bark and then say he is not really a puppy, for example.

The other day, a friend tried to give Peter an amazing 3D puzzle of the human eye. At first, Peter said he did not want it. In fact, he was quite loud about that fact. In the past, that would have been the end of it after another few minutes of noisy fear. Peter would not have been able to tell us why he didn’t want the gift. This time he asked, “Why would you want to give me someone’s eye? Is that an eye from a real person?”

Once we assured Peter that it was just a puzzle and not a real eye he accepted the gift. I have not quite convinced him to take it out of the box yet, but I know it may take a few steps before Peter is sure this eye is just a toy.

I pretend with Peter regularly to help him learn about imagination in an environment I am keeping safe for him. When I do, I make sure he knows I am pretending. I break into the pretend the way he does, but I try to extend the amount of time we pretend before we talk about how we are pretending.

When it comes to confusing visuals like the eye puzzle or people in costume I try to warn him. With the eye puzzle, I had never even thought he would think it was real, so I didn’t prepare him.

Last night, I caught Peter and Kit using balloons as swords. The next thing I knew Peter was on the ground pretending he had been very injured by the “sword.” He and Kit did that scene over and over again. For Peter, this was a huge step in his pretend play. Now, to get him to build the puzzle.

Christine April 22, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Peter is lucky to have you. You have not only taken the initiative to try to understand how your son experiences the world, but have worked with him to help teach other perspectives. Kudos to you for being a good, loving parent in a challenging situation. It's working.
Patrice E. Athanasidy April 22, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Thank you Christine. My column tells one family's story. It is being lived in many families with tireless parents, siblings, family, teachers, and friends working toward these goals.
Chris Peters April 24, 2012 at 02:09 PM
You demonstrate how parents can work with their kids that have 'limitations' due to tbeir disability. Parents need support in being able to do this, it is another way we advocate for our children. Thanks for sharing your stories!


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