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#1 of 13 Old 10-29-2011, 05:38 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My son (3.5) has a diagnosis of classic autism and is believed to be hyperlexic as well. He is verbal, but the quality of his language is sometimes poor. He seems to have most responses memorized and uses them appropriately in some situations. Lately he has been exhibiting some behaviors that I never thought I'd see in a child with autism. He participates in absolutely no pretend play, yet lately seems to have developed "imaginary friends," I suppose that would be the best way to describe them. I honestly thought that this was impossible! 

 

So I'm curious if any of your children (or children you know) with ASD have imaginary friends as well, and how they act, what they do.. etc.

 

My son has just started talking about "Charlie" lately and it honestly kinda freaks us out. One day he just told us that "Charlie" was in his room playing with his car. He'll also say that "Charlie" goes to the fridge and gets food, "Charlie" doesn't want to do that, etc. We will see him staring down the hall and ask what he sees and he'll say "Charlie doesn't want to play anymore". He does his fair share of staring off into space and seems to be looking at stuff, but I've always chalked this up to his ASD. It's very easy to grab his attention and get him back on track if he starts to zone out. There are a few other things he's done lately like talking about pictures of him and his other brother and how they're scary, or that he doesn't want to go near them. All of this started around the same time as "Charlie." 

 

A few people in our family who've witnessed this say it's not your "typical imaginary friend" and that we should have him checked to make sure he's not been misdiagnosed with ASD- and are thinking childhood schizophrenia. I, on the other hand, feel that you can't compare him to a "typical" child and typical behaviors because he's on the spectrum... of course he is going to play or whatnot differently. My family members who think this find it odd that he refers to himself by name rather than appropriately. Again, very stereotypical of autism. For example, he'll point at a picture and say "That's N!" instead of "That's me!" When we ask him questions about "Charlie" he can't really answer them because of the quality of his language. I'm hoping for some reassurance and other families with children on the spectrum who have children with imaginary friends. 


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#2 of 13 Old 10-30-2011, 07:01 AM
 
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That sounds like pretty normal imaginative play for a kid that age. I had an imaginary friend named Sally Tina and I had all kinds of behavior around her, some of which sound similar to what your child is doing. I completely freaked my mom out one day by getting in a fight with Sally Tina and kicking her out of the house. I marched her to the door, opened it, yelled "Get out!" and slammed the door behind her. 

 

Kids with an ASD can be imaginative. My 9 year old with an autism diagnosis has a very rich imagination and rich pretend play life. He writes elaborate pretend stories featuring himself and his friends as fantasy heroes (Sorcerer King, Lunar King, Solar King, Black Ninja, Fire Ninja,  Queen Mamate, Queen Pink) or super heroes  or pirates. In addition to writing short stories and comic books, he writes video game scripts featuring these characters. He has been diagnosed with autism after having an ADOS, ADI-R and IQ testing, so it's not just that he is sort of spectrumy. He has an autism DX. 

 

I'd do some reading on imaginary friends and talk to the pediatrician, but I wouldn't worry about it unless my peds doctor told me to. 

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#3 of 13 Old 10-30-2011, 07:46 AM
 
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Charlie sounds an awful lot like some of the imaginary friends my DD had at that age. She's being evaluated for Aspergers, but no diagnosis yet. We brought up her imaginary friends in therapy when she was 4. I was mostly concerned about the sheer number of them that she'd ended up with. Her bedroom was like Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Party central. I couldn't keep up with who was who. In the end, her therapist said that all was well unless her friends started telling her to do bad things (which they didn't). Kids that age can be very imaginative. When DD was going on 3, she had evil penguins after her and an elephant that stayed in her room keeping her up at night. When she was almost 4, she came to me one day with a sad look and told me "My friends won't play with me anymore." and a brief mourning period, started from scratch with a whole new set. One of the new set ended up robbing a bank. I had a few well meaning folks getting really concerned over DD's imaginary social life, but every professional I talked to said it was perfectly normal. She was just a really imaginative kid. She's 6 now. Now her doll and her stuffed animals have taken the place of her imaginary friends, but still are pretty interesting characters.

 

I remember having imaginary friends myself, though only a couple verses DD's dozens. It's pretty common for young children. 

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#4 of 13 Old 10-31-2011, 05:07 AM
 
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My son has an ASD diagnoses, and he had plenty of pretend play.  It's actually the reason why on the first couple of assessments we had for him, autism wasn't considered.  We had a "Well the obsessiveness and sensory issues and poor eye contact look a lot like autism, but it can't be with all this symbolic play" kind of reaction.  It kind of took the structure of the ADOS (this year, at age11!) to see that it was still autism, and that even his great imagination was being used differently than an NT kid.  As a 4-7 year old, DS made up all kinds of elaborate games and stories where he'd take a trip in his "ice car" up North with his sled dog, and he'd get sounding like this was really happening.  He'd say he'd gone at night while we were sleeping.  He played a lot of games (always made up by him) with my DD where they would be wild animal rescuers or ninjas.  What he wasn't good at was cooperating with others to play a social imaginative game, there was no flexibility.  While I thought some of the ADOS may have looked worse than things are because at age 11, none of the kids in his school play with action figures anymore or read picture books, I did notice for all his imagination, he had a hard time adjusting to the imaginative play ideas the psychologist introduced.  He was great at making up his own story, but not at the interacting imaginatively.  I also find that while my DS is high functioning enough to have theory of mind, things like thinking how to describe brushing teeth to someone who has never done so (like on the ADOS) was also hard because not knowing how to brush your teeth is kind of inconceivable to him.

 

I sub as a TA and I actually have a pretty regular group of kids I get often.  One has a diagnoses of classic autism and conceives the most elaborate stories where he is a dinosaur in a herd trying to escape a group of T-rexes.  He'll assign other students parts, kind of like a play director.  While he definitely sticks to the dinosaur obsession, he's still got a lot of range as to the particulars of what's going on with the different dinosaurs in the group.

 

Anyway, I think the imagination bit with the autism might be more about social imaginative play rather than all imagination.  Especially as seeing many with high functioning autism show creativity in engineering, math, music and art.


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#5 of 13 Old 10-31-2011, 06:57 AM
 
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I don't have any experience with imaginary friends, but ds would do those "imaginary friends" things with his stuffed animals ("I didn't do it, Puppy did it!" "Puppy wanted some pretzels for breakfast.") and his little sister (before she could articulate her own opinions). Also, it took ds longer than is typical to start engaging in pretend play and didn't start doing it a lot until younger dd was able to play with him and he was big on the "zoing out" through 1st grade.

 

Confusion of personal pronouns is not unusual in young children (which your ds is) and children on the spectrum (which he is as well).

 

Quote:

A child's stage of development must be taken into account when considering a diagnosis of mental illness. Behaviors that are normal at one age, may not be at another. Rarely, a normal young child may report strange experiences—such as hearing voices—that would be considered abnormal at a later age. Clinicians look for a more persistent pattern of such behaviors. Parents may have reason for concern if a child of 7 years or older often hears voices saying derogatory things about him or her, or voices conversing with one another…

http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/childdiag.htm

 

I think it is a good idea to keep notes/date on his behavior and to discuss this with your provider, but I think he would have to be exhibiting more severe symptoms for that to even be considered at this age; one of the criteria for distinguishing schizophrenia from autism in children is that the symptoms start at a later age.

 


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#6 of 13 Old 10-31-2011, 12:38 PM
 
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My DD is on the high functioning end of the spectrum (but for sure ON the spectrum) and had imaginary animals when she was little. My favorite was a horse who lived in a nest and laid eggs, but was still a horse. He used to run along next to our car.  She also had a little group of imaginary coyote pups that lived with us for a long that she would take for walks. That lasted until they decided they were old enough to learn to hunt, so she sent them back to live with their own kind.


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#7 of 13 Old 11-01-2011, 01:20 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post


 He used to run along next to our car.



Ha!  I used to imagine that! :)


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#8 of 13 Old 11-01-2011, 05:50 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you so much for the replies! It definitely helps me feel more at ease. I do have a few friends with children on the spectrum (but they can't really be compared to my son, and I feel NT children shouldn't always be "compared" as well) and none of them have ever done this. Maybe he is at the stage where some imaginitive play is just starting to take off. He did say something the other day that caught my attention, and I will definitely note it. I love the idea of keeping notes on his development and changes in his behaviors. He came out of his room first thing in the morning and told me "Charlie has my McQueen (his favorite toy)" and I said "Well, go ask him if you can play with it!" and he told me "Charlie doesn't like Noah (himself)" and I said "You're Noah, Charlie doesn't like you?" and he replies "No, Charlie doesn't like THAT Noah" and pointed at the pictures of his brother and him that I mentioned before that he is afraid of. A few more times that day he was referring to "Noah", but it was clear that he wasn't talking about himself. But when I asked him who he was, he would tell me Noah. nut.gif Maybe his imagination hasn't branched out into making up names for other things. He did once know a kid named Charlie also (his only friend in daycare last year, which he no longer attends) so when all of this first started we thought he was talking about his old friend Charlie. His memory is amazing. He will tell me the smallest details about things before he could even talk. 

 

But anyway, thanks for reassurance. Everything I had read about childhood schizophrenia did discuss older children, so I think he is definitely too young to worry about that just yet. My FIL is a psychiatrist and deals with a lot of schizophrenia cases. He doesn't live near us or see him more than over skype, so he hasn't had a chance to observe the behavior. He will be here over the holidays though so I'll have to see what he thinks as well. He was one of the first people who suspected autism very very early. 


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#9 of 13 Old 12-08-2012, 10:28 AM
 
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My seven year old with PDD-NOS has many imaginary friends.  I believe they help him to cope with his autism.  Apparently it's pretty common if you ask adults on the spectrum.  Here's a good discussion of same:

http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt180316.html

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#10 of 13 Old 12-12-2012, 08:53 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mamanoish View Post

My son (3.5) has a diagnosis of classic autism and is believed to be hyperlexic as well. He is verbal, but the quality of his language is sometimes poor. He seems to have most responses memorized and uses them appropriately in some situations. Lately he has been exhibiting some behaviors that I never thought I'd see in a child with autism. He participates in absolutely no pretend play, yet lately seems to have developed "imaginary friends," I suppose that would be the best way to describe them. I honestly thought that this was impossible! 

 

So I'm curious if any of your children (or children you know) with ASD have imaginary friends as well, and how they act, what they do.. etc.

 

My son has just started talking about "Charlie" lately and it honestly kinda freaks us out. One day he just told us that "Charlie" was in his room playing with his car. He'll also say that "Charlie" goes to the fridge and gets food, "Charlie" doesn't want to do that, etc. We will see him staring down the hall and ask what he sees and he'll say "Charlie doesn't want to play anymore". He does his fair share of staring off into space and seems to be looking at stuff, but I've always chalked this up to his ASD. It's very easy to grab his attention and get him back on track if he starts to zone out. There are a few other things he's done lately like talking about pictures of him and his other brother and how they're scary, or that he doesn't want to go near them. All of this started around the same time as "Charlie." 

 

A few people in our family who've witnessed this say it's not your "typical imaginary friend" and that we should have him checked to make sure he's not been misdiagnosed with ASD- and are thinking childhood schizophrenia. I, on the other hand, feel that you can't compare him to a "typical" child and typical behaviors because he's on the spectrum... of course he is going to play or whatnot differently. My family members who think this find it odd that he refers to himself by name rather than appropriately. Again, very stereotypical of autism. For example, he'll point at a picture and say "That's N!" instead of "That's me!" When we ask him questions about "Charlie" he can't really answer them because of the quality of his language. I'm hoping for some reassurance and other families with children on the spectrum who have children with imaginary friends. 

 

DS (3, almost 4) sounds a lot like that. Except from your description(s), your DS is a lot more verbal than my DS. When we look at pictures, he'll say, "That's Ma-kai!" He never says, "That's me." or "Me" unless we ask him who Malachi is. He doesn't verbalize enough to even say things like "X doesn't want to play anymore." though, so I can't really comment on the things your DS is saying.


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#11 of 13 Old 12-15-2012, 07:00 PM
 
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I have twins on the Autism spectrum and know a number of kids, all over the spectrum.  I taught preschool for a number of years and had several students on the spectrum, plus most of my sons' friends are on the spectrum.

 

I'm not aware of any of them having anything that resembles an imaginary friend.

 

My neurotypical 4.5-year-old, on the other hand, had imaginary friends when he was 3 and they sounded no different than what you describe.  As far as he was concerned, they were in the room  and he could tell you all sorts of details.  Although he no longer "plays" with them now, if you ask about them he is very clear who they are and can tell you why they haven't been around lately.  (His favorite imaginary friend, for example, has been visiting Kenya for the last year or so...)


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#12 of 13 Old 12-29-2012, 05:50 PM
 
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Crash is diagnosed with AS, and this sounds just like him at about 4. He used an imaginary friend to help him process some of the more confusing behaviors people around him exhibited. Mostly abusive or bullying behaviors. His imaginary "friend" was named Randal and had a lot in common with the Randal from Monsters, Inc.....not that they were really friends. He was just stuck with Randal because Randal had decided he lived in our house and what with being imaginary, ds had no physical or authoritative recourse to make him leave. Eventually, Randal was out doing other things (presumably harassing other innocent children) more and more, and when he stopped coming around, Crash couldn't remember that Randal ever was.

 

The canned responses sound like ds too. Although, he has a HUGE variety of them now so you really have to get to know him to know he's not coming up with stuff off the cuff. 

 

ETA - I'd never even heard of hyperlexia until reading this thread, but after a little research I'd say Crash, Spritely, and I (all ASD) can identify with it - even though none of us have that diagnosis. When we figured out letter sounds we basically jumped to high school/college level reading within weeks (I was reading Homer and Shakespeare at 5, Crash read Eragon at 4, and Spritely enjoyed reading her uncle's anatomy books from med school at 3-4, for instance) and definitely aren't drawn to verbal interactions. (I wouldn't say we struggle so much as find the high level of attention and upkeep most people demand to even be comfortable making an occasional exchange of information - is just exhaustive and rarely worth the effort.)


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#13 of 13 Old 01-04-2013, 02:35 PM
 
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I've worked with a lot of kids with autism/ASDs, and a few have had "imaginary friends", so yes it's possible. 

 

The most recent example was a girl who had a host of imaginary friends.  She was very artistic and she drew pictures of them in her binder, and talked about them a lot.    She had a very vivid imagination!  (So don't let anyone tell you that kids with autism don't have any imagination/imaginary friends--they certainly can!)

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