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Autism is "Thinking in Pictures”

Emily Faith Photography

“Mommy, I can make movies in my mind,” Bobby said. Is that what he’s doing when he jumps, paces and hums? For years we had watched him and not understood. We had always wondered how jumping could bring him such joy. In that instant, Bobby had opened the window and given us a little peek into his mind. I was fascinated.

Movies in his mind are “Bobby World,” as he calls it. Temple Grandin describes it as “thinking in pictures.” My 7-year-old son with high-functioning autism has given us a similar description. Bobby World is his imagination in full, vibrant color. It’s the most amazing place he’s ever seen. He gets there by “stimming,” or self-stimulation. He can also get there when he draws.

Today his obsession is Spider-Man.

“Mommy, is there a cartoon Spider-Man?”

“Is there also a movie?”

“Mommy, are there Spider-Man books too?” 

He knows the answer to these questions, but asking them repeatedly is like an aphrodisiac. He moves to his “office,” the top of the radiator cover next to the window. This is his special space. His hand moves quickly with the pen. He draws a Spider-Man head and tosses it aside. Not good enough. Bobby can go through reams of paper in one sitting. He is an amazing artist, but has high standards.

I gently approach him. “Honey, it’s time for dinner. You’re going to need to stop and take a break.” 

“I can’t stop!” he screams. 

I look at him knowingly. “Five minutes, buddy.” 

He stares at me with those big blue eyes and tentatively smiles. “Ok, Mommy,” he agrees. 

And then I hope. Always I hope.

By Kristen Donohue, mom of Bobby, 7, Sean, 5, and Peter, 3