I believe a great chunk of my childhood can best be described as follows: my mind was entirely preoccupied with images and scenes from movies, TV shows, and video games. Much of my time in school, at home, in public, or elsewhere was spent mentally reenacting things that I saw on my television screen, often times acting it out physically. In other words, I was essentially trapped in this fantasy world that was governed by movies and television, the kinds of stuff that parents are supposed to limit their children’s access to. Boy, do I wish I listened to my parents when they tried to get me to spend more time outside or reading books.
Usually what I was fixated on throughout the day involved something like an animated Disney film, a Nickelodeon cartoon, a video game such as Crash Bandicoot or Sonic the Hedgehog, or any similar form of media. Pretty much anything animated and targeted at kids that I watched/played repetitively would directly influence my behavior, whether I was by myself or was around others. From what I can remember, much of what I acted out would vary based on what I was obsessed with at the moment.
For instance, I can recall one memory from Kindergarten where, out of boredom I guess, I fantasized about being in a scene from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Once or twice during recess in 2nd grade, I pretended I was in this computer game called Chex Quest (I doubt anyone here will remember it). Several times while I was playing at a park or hanging with friends, I visualized myself in some sort of trailer or commercial for a movie or television show. I even used to fantasize about being a Powerpuff Girl, or rather the Powerpuff Girls, pretending that each of the kids at school I didn’t like represented a villain from the show.
Whatever I was trying to act out, I was hardly in sync with reality during my “imaginary play.” I think I pretty much refused to acknowledge what was really going on around me, and I certainly didn’t concern myself with how others perceived me. Heck, I doubt I was even aware at the time that people thought I acted so bizarrely. I was usually far too busy trying to recreate images and scenes that I witnessed from a television set to notice anything.
Here is what my behavior typically looked like when I was engaged in my little fantasies: I would mumble, whisper, or talk out loud to myself; flail my arms about wildly; jump up and down excitedly; run all over the place like I was going crazy; fool around with different objects or pieces of nature that I found; or I might talk to someone while quoting some dialogue from something I saw on television. In other words, it truly did look like I was in my own world, oblivious to my surroundings and other people’s judgment.
I can also distinctly remember how people tended to react to my behavior. They were mostly confused, troubled, weirded out, deeply concerned, or sometimes just amused. My family and teachers would look at me slightly worried, unsure of what to tell me or how they might get me to stop. Meanwhile the other kids at school would stare at me as if I needed to be institutionalized, and would occasionally laugh at me or poke fun of me behind my back. For some reason, I didn’t quite understand why people would react to me like this until much later. It took till sometime in high school, I believe, when I realized that people didn’t see my imaginary behavior the same way that I did.
I would love to say that at some point as I grew up, this habit of mine faded away and I became far more conscientious of what I was doing. It didn’t. All throughout high school and even somewhat during college, I continued to publicly act out various scenarios I saw from electronic media. Perhaps it may have slightly improved over time, but alas it remained part of my regular routine for quite some time. What I did usually involved impersonating different characters from movies, video games, as well as online videos; imagining my own game or TV franchises, which were heavily based on already existing ones; and pretending to play various instruments in a rock band while listening to music. Heck, I was even playing with toys quite regularly while I was still in high school. I think that one of the reasons I don’t do it today is because I no longer have any toys to play with.
To an extent, this sort of does go on even to this day. I’m certain that I do it substantially less than I did , say, 3 or 4 years ago. Nonetheless, every now and then I will imagine myself in some sort of role derived from movies, television, video games, or videos from the web. It’s a habit that’s seriously tough to break, and it probably won’t be a while till I’ve completely grown out of it. Sure it might be a relatively harmless behavior, but I believe it will be necessary to stay in touch with reality for the sake of my own image. I really want to be perceived by others as someone who is approachable, sociable, and not trapped in his own little world.
However, I completely understand why many people with autism, whether they be children or adults, might choose to continue this sort of “imaginary play.” If I can be perfectly honest, it’s still rather fun; I mean, who doesn’t like to play pretend every now and then? I think for most people who do it regularly, it’s a perfect way to escape the real world when it’s too boring, disagreeable, or unfriendly for them, which it sadly often is.