Tony Attwood describes Special Interests in Aspies, listing goals they strive to meet.
In my childhood, I had a rich solitary fantasy life. I lived in a cabin-like house on 21 heavily-forested, rural acres. Although I felt alienated and cut off from a social world I had longed to join, I made the best of what I had, which was a rich, fertile ground for an entire imaginary village. I built forts at the bases of trees, making optimum use of the natural structures. The forts were nothing elaborate or impressive; they were usually makeshift minimal frames, using rotted out pieces of wood I had gathered from the bonfire pit outside the detached garage, which was more of a machine shop than a garage. My architectural efforts produced hardly anything at all; a casual passerby would probably not notice much of anything, except for a nest of sorts, without a roof. Typically, the only evidential clue would be a few stray toys left in the middle that inevitably got rained on (oops). The principal essence of the forts actually resided in my own mind. In my mind, they were houses, and imaginary people lived there. I had names, ages, and personalities for all of them, and an entire intact family structure. They formed an elaborate neighborhood network.
In this imaginary neighborhood, all walks of life were represented. There was the sensitive-turned-sullen teenage redheaded female, who lived in a mobile home whose mother was gone (either she had died or left the family) and her father was abusive–when he was around; she was typically left to care for her two younger brothers. Then there was the elderly gentle Native American/indigenous lady who lived by herself at the base of a grove of five trees, named Welcome-To-See-You; she had a humble garden behind her tree-grove-house, which yielded small bushels of chives and parsley. Some lived in mobile homes, others lived in dilapidated shacks, and still others lived in “typical” single-family homes. There were plenty of blended families, plenty of “traditional” families, and lots of children of all ages. In my mind, I explored the town through the lens of each child-age and adolescent character, attempting to really feel what their individual lives were like from their perspective.
As a slightly older child, I had moved to an “upper-scale” metropolitan area. Suddenly removed from my forested terrain (which was actually more-than-okay with me), the scraggly breeding ground of my former established colony was replaced with a hipper, trendier neighborhood. At the age of 12, you’d have thought I might abandon the idea of a fantasy world altogether and attempt to join the “real world”.
But I didn’t. I continued on. The houses and characters changed, but the imaginary drive remained. It didn’t make for nearly as colorful writing material, so I’ll spare the mundane details. I’ll just suffice it to say that there were plenty of “popular girls” and “cute boys”, because, well, even though I was only interested in being one of the popular girls for a year or two, and I only THOUGHT I was interested in the cute boys (I only ever really developed a crush on 2 in school, my first one only beginning to sprout about 2-3 years behind everyone else).
As a teenager, I created another, much different world. This world was less tangible and more ethereal. I often mentally transported myself to underground passages of ancient Egyptian pyramids lined with hieroglyphics and secret “warp zones” requiring one to be “in the know” to be aware of where and how to press to activate the mechanism, and I attempted to get in touch with what I believed (hoped) to be a former incarnation of myself from across the boundaries of space and time, to a soundtrack of mystical New Age music. Depending on the particular track coming through my stereo speakers, that same music could, alternatively, shunt me over to a world of Celtic lore that included fairies and hobbits. Or a desert caravan between Egypt and what was then known as Persia (the present-day Middle East). Or the Mexican and American Southwestern deserts, dotted with adobe structures. Or ancient Roman/Greek metropolises that boasted profound philosophy and intricate algebra/geometry.
In adulthood, I’ve had several alternative worlds, too. Simply walking around one of my old neighborhoods with an iPod playlist of rock en espanol streaming into my earbuds, I can bring out my Inner Mexican, complete with its joviality and genuine acceptance. It’s not an elaborate, detailed, flowery world, but it’s an alternate identity just the same. It’s interesting to me how such an outwardly-apparently “acceptable” pastime could camouflage a hidden current of thought-streams, imagination, and the accompanying pleasure beneath a seemingly-“normal” exterior.
To my profound joy, I realized one day that I can even create an alternate world in my office at work! In this world, I’m a (biologically) female version of Dr House on the TV series House, MD, the brilliant, quick-witted diagnostician who nails even the most bizarre of patient cases and his gifts and talents are well-known and sought by people around the globe. All I have to do is stare into my laptop amidst a backdrop of music either featured on or inspired by music featured on the House MD show itself. In this alternate world, I suddenly feel intelligent. I feel capable. True to the characters on the TV show, I swat an proverbial tennis ball back and forth between cynical/sarcastic (House himself), earthy/logical/no-frills and too-aware (“Thirteen”), and caring entirely too much (Cameron). Sometimes I rapid-switch in and out from one personality to another, and at other times, they all roll into me simultaneously, remaining distinct, and yet swirling together like different colors of mist.
I think that partaking in such a rich, vivid fantasy world has had both positive and negative effects, and I think that whether the effect is good or bad largely depends on whether I’m using my imagination skills for distracting me from my “normal function” or for actually enhancing it. For example, my forest-town of families and individuals from early childhood would probably not serve me well at the office, but the House MD-themed “team” inside me might actually magnify my self-confidence and sharpen my focus, strengthening my resolve to accomplish and produce (two activities I’m relentlessly driven to do). Pretending that I’m House or various members of his team might nudge me to enter one more search string into a research database searchbox, which in turn, might deliver the key information that helps me solve a difficult case.
Either way, creating alternative worlds all my life has been relaxing and enjoyable. As a child, it was a much-needed escape route; as an adult, it amplifies my performance in my professional role. I see it as a variant manifestation of meditation. I don’t see myself putting my imaginary toys away any time soon 🙂