When Your Child With Autism Has An Imaginary Friend (Part 2)

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In my previous blog, I discussed my son’s new best friend—a
pretend best friend.

Is it right or wrong
for a child with autistic to have a pretend best friend?

I’m not sure. He is so creative when it comes to his pretend
best friend. This friend has a very elaborate world that my son has created,
and part of me is proud of that.

We continue to occasionally check in on him, making sure he
knows that this best friend is not real. Furthermore, my son knows that the
pretend best friend has to remain at home.

How long should we let
it go on?

I’m also not sure about that. Perhaps we should set a time
table. We could say that by his next birthday he has to stop with the pretend
friend and try to make more real friends.

Still, I wouldn’t want something like that to backfire. I
don’t want him to get hurt. Besides, I like my son’s creativity. And, maybe
this whole pretend best friend is more or less harmless.

Is the pretend best
friend sometimes helpful?

Two things that I have noticed about the pretend best
friend:

1. The pretend best friend’s life mirrors our life pretty
closely. If we take a drive to visit the snow, ______ also takes a drive to
visit the snow.

2. My husband and I have noticed that, at times, our son has
used this pretend best friend as a safe intermediary for discussions that might
otherwise be uncomfortable for him.

Here’s a great example that just happened the other day:

I was leaving an autism-related event with my son when my
son asks if _______ could talk. I said okay. _______ proceeded to ask me where
we were. I told _______ that my son and I were just leaving an autism event.
The pretend best friends said, “What is autism?”

Now, my husband and I believe that our son knows he has
autism, he knows he’s different, he knows he needs an aide at school, and he
attends autism-related events all the time. However, there have only been a
handful of times when we have directly discussed autism with him as it relates
to him.

I jumped on this opportunity and said to the pretend best
friend (and, yes, these conversations are sometimes kind of strange), “What did
my son tell you about autism?”

The pretend best friend replied, “He hasn’t said anything.”

I said, “Why don’t you ask him about it?”

Happily, the pretend best friend (my son) said, “Okay.”

That night, I overheard my son explain to his pretend best
friend that “autism is when kids sometimes struggle and they need help getting
through stuff.”

Then, my son stopped and asked me if I could help him
explain autism to his pretend best friend. I took a different approach yet
again (my second attempt to try to use this pretend best friend’s ability to be
a safe harbor for my son) and said, “I think you can explain it yourself a
little further sometime.”

My son said, “Okay,” and agreed to talk to his best friend
about autism at another time. 

A little weird, but is it effective? Am I doing the right
thing? This was the first time the pretend best friend was used in a discussion
about autism, and I just went with it.

The jury is still out on whether my son having a pretend
best friend is a good thing or a bad thing. I think I’ll wait it out and see
where it goes. I have discussed this issue with a few experts in the field of
autism and psychotherapy and they don’t seem to be alarmed.

I hope I’m doing the right thing, and I’m not all that
worried. It’s just another wrinkle in a life full of autism surprises.

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