I loved marbles when I was a child. I still do. My mom made us nice cloth bags with a drawstring at the top for our marbles, I still have two of those with my marbles in them. I always played alone with them, and never the usual games other kids played. What I did most of the time was line them up. In perfect rows, forming a perfect square. I knew exactly which places on the carpet in my room were flat enough to not let them roll out of line. I spent hours doing this, making sure the lines were perfect, swopping some marbles and swopping them back, and just sitting there looking at the marbles, picking one up and looking at it, putting it back in the right place.
I am sure an observer would describe that play as unimaginative, not varied or exploratory, and see the use of the marbles as not appropriate and non-functional. And if he/she were to ask me what I was doing, I would not have been able to tell them. Which would have confirmed their belief that the activity was purposeless or just ritualistic. And maybe there would be a little frustration or sadness to see the lack of enjoyment of toys?
How wrong that observer would have been! It would have been a lot sadder if I saw marbles merely as small round balls of glass to be played with in ways that other people have determined. Where is the imagination in that?
I can try to describe what was going on in my mind, but even now as an adult that is almost impossible. Which leads me to believe that what is seen as a lack of imagination could very likely be communication difficulty.
The marbles had what I will call, for lack of a better word, personalities. Each marble was a unique being, not really like a person, but just as complex and interesting. And I did not randomly give them these personalities, it was just something I perceived and knew the moment I saw a marble for the first time.
Almost as if the marbles told me what/who they were. And it wasn't something I could describe in words, I still cannot. But I can to this day pick a marble up, and feel who that marble is. I find it frustrating not being able to describe this in words. Because it is a rich, very interesting, very complex 'world' I enter when I look at marbles. In a way the lack of words does not lessen the experience, rather it stops the experience being limited and neatly boxed in by words. It is so much more than descriptions, it is feeling and sensation, and emotion - it can be breathtaking.
I lined them up because some of them belonged together, and some not at all. It would be very unsettling to put the small blue one next to the white one, the white one is too threatening, it has a confusing personality. It looks fine, but it cannot be trusted. The white one and the big yellow one has to go to the back, to be with the anonymous and slightly scary multicoloured ones. And between the vulnerable and special ones in front and those in the back, there has to a barrier of more neutral but less interesting ones. And when all are in their right places, I can pick up the special green one, and go into its world. What you will see is a child looking expressionlessly at a marble. While inside there is a story playing out. Not one with a beginning, middle and end and with specific things happening, but a story filled with realisations, deep emotions and intense sensations. What a pity these stories cannot be shared!
I did not like playing pretend games with other girls. I had such a rich imagination and intense sensations, that playing dress-up or tea parties or school made little sense to me. To me it felt like imitating others, following others' ideas, and conforming to their ideas of what should happen. While being unable to describe my own wants and ideas. I dare say it felt unimaginative and boring to me. I do realise that children learn through play and that important social lessons are learned when playing in these usual and appropriate ways. I missed out on that and I guess it contributes to my struggles in the social world. But I have no regrets. My world was rich, filled with overwhelming imagination and sensations, joy and sadness, colours and sounds, all hidden to observers. So my plea would be - when you look at an autistic child, please do not assume that there is nothing going on inside just because you cannot see anything and because they cannot share what they are experiencing.