Imagination

Joe's diagnosis is predominantly severe AD/HD but underlying the blindingly obvious AD/HD runs a subtle blend of different shades of autism, SID, dyspraxia and tics.

Given the fact that autism plays a large part in making Joe the delightful little chap he is, one area that creates confusion is the misconception that autistic people are unable to tell lies. I have thought long and hard about why Joe is so literal, has such difficulties understanding facial expressions, body language and receptive language but yet has the imagination worthy of a commendation by Walt Disney! Having lived with Joe and his 'lies' for so many years, I have come to the conclusion that this ability to tell the most amazingly far-fetched and believable stories, is yet another one ofthe triad ofimpairments in clever disguise. 'Impaired' is maybe the wrong word for the way Joe can expand on the truth, invent full scenarios from just one word or action and omit aspects of a story in order for it to have a different meaning.

This wild 'imagination' and the apparently sociable nature of a child with AD/HD may be one of the reasons why parents and professionals miss the inextricable link between autism and AD/HD. However on analysing the behaviour and listening to the imagination of children like Joe, it becomes obvious that there is an underlying difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction. Joe believes his stories implicitly and is so convincing with his tales and his expansion and omission of truths that I can't begin to fault anyone for believing him. Numerous times each week I fall for one of his tales. He has even had me believing that his teacher was on her way round to have a bounce on our trampoline - so convincing are his stories!

I recently dared myself to allow Joe to go to a sleepover with a new boy in his class. I thought that I had fully covered all aspects of Joe with the child's dad and spent much time explaining his dietary needs, supplying foods, explaining Joe's literality and how he needs to be spoken to directly rather than in a group situation. I explained that he has no awareness of danger, how he likes to cut and shred things and that he hardly slept. All in all, I came away feeling quite secure in the fact that Joe was going to be looked after well and the family were prepared for any eventuality.

However on returning to pick him up I was met by a bunch of excited and anxious ten-year-olds and a group of worried parents. Apparently Joe had sneaked off to an old shed on someone else's property and found books on 'how to strangle a child' and 'how to choke a child'. He had also found a gun on a shelf and a cupboard with blood dripping from it. I groaned inwardly and realized that I had made a serious omission when explaining Joe's differences.. .I didn't warn his friend's father about his 'imagination'!

After calming down the other frantic children and exploring the shed, it turned out that Joe had seen two first aid posters, one showing 'how to resuscitate a choking child' and one 'showing how to resuscitate a child that isn't breathing'. Part of the resuscitation technique for a child that isn't breathing was to loosen clothing to avoid strangulation (hence the word 'strangle') and of course Joe had seen the word 'choke' on the other poster. The blood dripping from the cupboard was rust and the gun on the shelf was an old chisel!

By the time we got home, Joe was firmly convinced that he had seen such things and within the third time of telling the tale, he had also seen a bomb and a whole set of guns and by the time he was due to go to school the next day, he couldn't wait to tell his teacher that he had witnessed a murder! Despite explaining what Joe had seen and despite the fact that his friends were fully satisfied that Joe had got it wrong, Joe firmly believed his own story. Fortunately Joe has always had teachers who are aware of Joe's 'imagination' though I dread to think what he does tell them at school!

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