I distinctly remember the beginning of my experience with visualisation, I was about ten years old and lying in bed wondering if I could see what the back of my eyelids looked like with my eyes closed. I lay there looking at the glowy, blackish hue of my inner eyelids. When you try to see with your eyes closed, you can see waves of light barely offering definition, as a child, this light would evolve into stars. This was the beginning of my visual adventures.
I started visualising that I was ‘flying’ through the stars. I was curious about space but I wasn’t interested in the physics or terminology relating to it – I wanted to know what it felt like, I wanted the sensory experience.
It amuses me when I say I am interested in something and people who know I am autistic expect to hear a list of terminology; I love trees but, I don’t care what they’re called – I literally have no use for the labels. Instead I wonder about what it feels like to be a tree and who this particular tree is?
I would visualise myself leaving my body, floating down to the garden and embodying myself into the eucalyptus tree that I used to climb and hide in. I would then visualise my consciousness zapping down into the roots where I would watch the tree’s pulses of life and I would close my virtual eyes and feel the zaps flow through me. This brought me great peace.
It brought me sleep.
As I grew older my visualisation expanded according to my interests. Over weeks I started creating stories and movies in my mind’s eye. I would set the scene, cast the characters, work in costume and set design. I was the writer, director and producer of my own movies for a long time. I also used to design music videos when I would listen to my favourite songs on repeat.
It continued to bring me sleep.
In my mid-teens, when my autistic perspective was beginning to really struggle, I would rewind real-life scenarios based on my visual memory. I was able to go back and process the whole day using visualisation. I could spend time trying to connect prosody and facial expressions with words, to try and understand the intention.
I guess my intelligence knew that I wasn’t understanding things in real time, and it recorded everything so I could review it privately. Although this was exhausting and stalled my ability to enjoy learning and interests, it strengthened my ability to mask socially. In hindsight, I believe this was a protective measure – somewhere in my subconscious, I ‘knew’ that my differences must be kept hidden.
In my early twenties I resumed my peaceful visualisations. I stopped socialising and went back into nature, into trees, underground. I took to the sky like an eagle and flew above land and sea. I dove into the sea and went deep under water just to hang out with whales. I explored far away planets and said hello to purple aliens with furry bodies and multi-coloured heads.
For a time I believed I was really leaving my body but as I matured, I became more grounded in the concept of it being strong visual skills combined with a highly active imagination.
Now that my life involves more socialising again, I need to use my visual skills to process interactions. I repeat conversations in my mind’s eye because I don’t always understand facial expressions or tone in relation to the words.
However, I have come to realise that I am actually only speculating what people mean; whether my interpretation is positive or negative can often be dependant on my mood, it’s not real. I am losing the will to put as much effort into translating conversations.
I practice what I am going to say in my mind’s eye first before I decide if I am going to go back to that person to say my words or ask a question, then it becomes real. I only do this with safe people; people that I know will not mock me for continuing to think about something that they may have considered a casual and forgettable conversation. (What an alien concept!).
My favourite part about letting go of visually evaluating social encounters is that I now have the headspace to go back to producing movies and music videos again.
Many autistic people have strong visual perception. I think it is common to get lost in using it as a coping strategy. I would love to know that those who have strong visual perception remember to also use it for relaxing or as a sleep aid and as a way to self regulate, or even just to explore.
Laura is a neurodivergent writer with special interests in Autism, ADHD and learning differences. Laura is often reflecting on and experimenting with life and presenting her theories/findings through her writing. She is currently studying Autism Studies with UCC and lives with her husband and two daughters in Ireland. You can find her on Instagram @homoaspiens_