When we think of imagination we invariably think of Once Upon a Time, dressing up and playing cops and robbers, but imagination is so much more than that, our innate, subconscious use of imagination helps us to navigate through our life and the world.
For the majority of us when we are children our imagination forms much of our reality; as a child I lived in books, in the alternate realities of The Far-Away Tree, or as I got older as the sixth member of The Famous Five; having adventures with nothing but my stomach to remind me of home. My imagination allowed me to escape from the world and my annoying sister and live in Enid Blyton's alternate reality that was way cooler! But more than that it helped me to make sense of the real world and helped train my imagination muscles.
But somewhere along the line reality became real and real life became dominant. My imagination no longer transported me in The Wishing Chair, instead it took on a more constructive role.
Our imagination has many roles; it enables us to time-travel, Doctor Who like, reliving the past and trying to foresee the future. We use our imaginations to replay events and taunt ourselves with eternal 'what ifs' ? We use our imaginations to dream of the future and the realities not yet happened, wondering if and how we will ever get there. We use our imaginations to help us make decisions, to explore the possibilities of each junction before us, should we paint that room yellow or green? Should I change jobs? Should we move house?
Imagination also enables us to effectively interact with other people, it is essential in skills such as empathy. Imagination enables us to understand other people and their motivations. Imagination allows us to predict how other people will react and why, and this allows us to moderate our own actions accordingly.
Our imagination allows us to walk in someone else's shoes and see life from their perspective.
Now imagine living your life with an imagination that is impaired, that does not function effectively in these ways. This is for my daughter, as it is for many other people who have ASD a reality. For my daughter the innate use of imagination is extremely difficult and extremely confusing. Her difficulties with imagination affects the whole of her life, it impacts on her education especially as she gets older and subjects get more conceptual. It affects her friendships and her interpersonal interactions and it affects her behavior. She is unable to see that her actions may affect others differently to how they affect her... hence she is unable to see that her love of all things horse may sometimes bore other people! She finds it an almost impossible task to imagine the reasons behind someone else's actions. She cannot use her imagination to walk in someone else's shoes. (Even if she understood what this statement meant)!
I need to remember how hard it is for her to cope in a world ruled by imagination, in a world that is not logical and makes no sense, with a world where more is said in the unsaid..
I need to remember that her imaginative play is different to mine, and that her imagination sets a scene rather than creating a series of interactions. (Those lines of still, silent model horses or end to end cars across the floor).
I need to remember how difficult it is for her to picture a moment beyond the present, which contributes to her difficulties with sequencing and organization and perhaps also her constant W questions. (What? where? when?).
I need to remember that though her imagination operates in a different way to mine it is just as valid.
Her imagination like mine is still trying to make sense of the world.
I need to use my imagination to help her to use hers.
But most importantly I need to use my imagination to walk in her shoes and see life from her perspective.
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