Reality Versus Fantasy

My autistic son lives in a fantasy world made up of fictional characters. He becomes those characters. He believes in them. To him, they’re real.

It’s escapism – a way of coping with a confusing world and it’s something that I understand well because I’ve lived in a fantasy world of my own and to a certain extent, I still do.

I have an understanding of my son’s world because it bears many similarities to my own. In contrast, my own mother was oblivious to my struggles. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t her fault because nothing was obvious with me. I couldn’t verbalise my feelings or what was happening to me outside of home. However, when I was physically at home I was mentally elsewhere and my mother picked up on this..

You look so far away from here..

The reason for that was that ‘here’ was (and still is) overwhelming and causes me a great deal of anxiety and like most autistic people I escaped into the realm of fantasy..

I need escapism as much as I need oxygen to breathe. Those fictional characters of my son’s world? I was that child too and it’s never actually left me as being able to create characters for myself has been an integral part of masking and while it may not be the same world I inhabited as a child, my need for an alternate universe remains the same. The difference is that I understand what’s acceptable (and what’s not) of me as an adult. For instance, It’s not appropriate for me to wander around my garden talking to imaginary people like I did when I was a child. I’d be carted off to the nuthouse, right?

But it’s all there in my head.

Sadly, for me, my fantasy world has evolved to be somewhat darker than when I was a child because I know that monsters are real and they exist in human form. With the best will in the world, one cannot go through years of abuse and come out looking like Snow White. Nor will I ever be the Evil Queen because, empathy, right? I’m damaged and my fantasy world reflects it, but, at least the realm is still open to me in a ‘not requiring medication’ kind of way.

A lot of autistics live (or have lived) in a fantasy world and if you understood how hard it is to live on a planet that’s not compatible with your needs, perhaps you would understand why this happens. The bottom line is this: Our imaginary worlds are where we have complete control over ever single thing that happens because control is something that we have little of in the ‘real’ world. It’s the reason we flounder through life – succumbing to mental and physical illness. Some of us will take our own lives. Many of us will die prematurely from stress related diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but before the killer diseases set in most of us will struggle with chronic health conditions which impact our already limited lives. But inside our mind is a place where we can be ourselves – a place where we don’t have to fight to be heard or accepted – a place where we can be ourselves, or whoever we want to be, without fear.

How sad that this is the stuff of fantasy, instead of reality?

This is our reality.

I know how crap this world can get and how unkind human beings can be, so I indulge my son’s need for fantasy because I understand his need for escapism. The real world disappoints. It hurts. It makes us anxious. I wish that I could spare him all of this, but I know that one day his imaginary world will no longer protect him. I dread that day, but I know that it will because this isn’t our world. It isn’t autism friendly, not yet.

We are merely being given the crumbs off the NT table with an hour in a supermarket or an autism showing once a month at the cinema. This is why so many of us describe feeling as if we are from a different planet. We’re aliens having to work exceptionally hard to try and fit in here.

In our fantasy worlds, we live, rather than exist.

In reality, we exist, rather than live.

Whether escapism is being a fictional character, or losing ourselves in the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book – it’s important that we do it and it’s important that people, especially parents, understand why.

“For a child with Asperger’s, especially a fantasy subtype, fantasy can become an obsession. If fantasy becomes an obsession, it may take therapy or perhaps medication to correct the situation. Do not hesitate to contact a psychologist for help if your efforts are unsuccessful. A child locked in fantasy is a child lost to reality.”

I came across this on a website specifically for parents of children who have Aspergers. The last sentence in particular suggests ignorance of the importance of escapism and it’s function. Is intervention really in the child’s best interests? Or is it another example of autistic children being forced to adapt so that non-autistic people can feel more comfortable in their presence?

Our autistic lives revolve around escapism and obsessions. If a child’s obsession involves wearing a Jason mask AND nicking your kitchen knives, then it would be wise to seek professional help, and pronto. Otherwise, leave them be. Use your common sense as a parent. Escapism is serving a purpose. It’s keeping them sane. The important stuff is going in. Nobody was more ‘locked in a fantasy world’ than I was as a child, but I do understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s just that reality overwhelms me, so I need to intersperse it with frequent visits to my fantasy world.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” ~ J.R.R Tolkien

Image by Cole Stivers

2 thoughts on “Reality Versus Fantasy

  1. Hi! Would you be interested in doing an interview for my blog ( I loved this article and I thought your expertise might be especially valuable. If you are interested, shoot me an email at jennagensic(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks for considering.


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