Advice on an online friend who speaks through a cartoon character

So, this has the potential to be a long-ish post as some background information is required. I apologize in advance.

I've had this online friend (let's call her Jess) for several years now. We met playing a small, social game that centers around a topic she enjoys. I've known that Jess is autistic for quite some time, as does most of the community. She's pretty open about it, and word also just tends to get around since there aren't many players. Jess is 24, but she acts much younger and is easily upset with things such as fighting, inappropriate language/topics, politics, and anything similar. Most of us are pretty accommodating and do our best to make her feel comfortable.

A little over a year ago, the game shut down for a short period of time. This upset Jess a lot, as we are much of her social interaction. During this period of time, Jess began to talk as a cartoon character from her favorite show. She'd send me texts that began, "[Chacter name:] Jess wants to know what she should do today." I went along with it, as I wasn't really sure what the best thing to do would be. I also figured this was something she'd either move on from, or if it was inappropriate for her to do that her parents would notice and help her out.

However, this started May of 2018 and it is now nearly October of 2019. She still speaks as this cartoon character, and it seems that she speaks almost exclusively as him. It seems like she uses him to express her emotions. If she is worried or upset or stressed about something then she will say the cartoon character is worried or upset or stressed. Sometimes, she'll talk as other characters from this show as well. Every now and then, her primary cartoon character will even have a conflict with another cartoon character from the same show and she will express worry and concern about it.

I've tried to ask if she speaks this way around her parents, just to get an idea about whether or not this is something about which they know, but she didn't really give me a straight answer.

I guess I'm just kind of worried, because I don't know if this is a typical or healthy thing for her to be doing, and I don't want myself or anyone else in the community encouraging it if it's not. I'm not even entirely sure if this is something that is typical in those with autism, or if this is something completely separate altogether.

It seems like she understands that this character isn't real. But at the same time, I'm not entirely sure. Sometimes she'll send me and my friends texts like, "What if you woke up and [Character Name] was in your room?" When people who don't know what she's doing ask, "Who is [Character Name]?" she'll respond with, "My rabbit" or the character's full name from the show. However, I think she has also referred to him as her imaginary friend, so I really don't know.

Mainly what I'm asking if this is anything anyone has experienced before? Is this autism-related or something else? Is this behavior I should discourage? Should I encourage her to speak as herself? For a while now, whenever she speaks, I'll just address Jess directly.

Also, let me clarify that all of this is via text or online chat, none of it is actual speaking, so I don't know if this is something she does when she speaks out-loud (I do know that she is verbal).

Parents
  • Hi. This isn't something I've specifically come across before, but I can share a couple of slightly similar experiences. I have to mention that I'm not a medical professional or an autism specialist, so this is just based on personal experience as an adult who's waiting for an autism diagnosis.

    I have a funny voice that I put on at home - I only ever use it when I'm with my partner, sister or parents. I just talk in a slightly odd voice and people find it funny. I usually do it to make people laugh, but I sometimes use that voice when I'm feeling awkward about communicating my emotions. If I'm really struggling to admit to something I've done that I'm embarrassed about, or finding it hard to express my feelings, I sometimes use that voice to start the conversation. I'm not really sure why I do it (perhaps to lighten the mood, or because I feel somewhat detached from the 'real me' when I'm doing it), but it doesn't seem unhealthy and the people around me understand. It gets me to open up sometimes, so I see that as a positive thing.

    In terms of fantasy characters, I have been known, in the past, to obsess over specific characters (I remember I used to create very vivid daydreams as a coping strategy, to mentally escape from whatever was upsetting me in the real world, and the featured characters would often be from books/TV/film). I did get unhealthily obsessed with living in that fantasy world, to the extent that I almost felt one of these characters would follow me around as I went about my day-to-day life. It wasn't a hallucination because I knew they weren't there; I just felt better having this character with me. It eventually reached a point where the character became a nuisance and I couldn't get them out of my head, so I had to gradually move away from using daydreaming as a coping strategy.

    I'm sorry if this isn't very helpful - autistic people are so individual that it's very hard to say what's healthy versus unhealthy. If the character helps her to express herself and she gets enjoyment/comfort out of it, then I'd err on the side of healthy. If it's something she feels she can't move away from and she feels 'trapped' (e.g. in terms of having to use the character, but not wanting to), then that could be an indicator that it's an unhealthy coping mechanism.

    The National Autistic Society does have a helpline, so you could always contact them if you'd like some advice on how best to support Jess: www.autism.org.uk/.../contact-us.aspx

Reply
  • Hi. This isn't something I've specifically come across before, but I can share a couple of slightly similar experiences. I have to mention that I'm not a medical professional or an autism specialist, so this is just based on personal experience as an adult who's waiting for an autism diagnosis.

    I have a funny voice that I put on at home - I only ever use it when I'm with my partner, sister or parents. I just talk in a slightly odd voice and people find it funny. I usually do it to make people laugh, but I sometimes use that voice when I'm feeling awkward about communicating my emotions. If I'm really struggling to admit to something I've done that I'm embarrassed about, or finding it hard to express my feelings, I sometimes use that voice to start the conversation. I'm not really sure why I do it (perhaps to lighten the mood, or because I feel somewhat detached from the 'real me' when I'm doing it), but it doesn't seem unhealthy and the people around me understand. It gets me to open up sometimes, so I see that as a positive thing.

    In terms of fantasy characters, I have been known, in the past, to obsess over specific characters (I remember I used to create very vivid daydreams as a coping strategy, to mentally escape from whatever was upsetting me in the real world, and the featured characters would often be from books/TV/film). I did get unhealthily obsessed with living in that fantasy world, to the extent that I almost felt one of these characters would follow me around as I went about my day-to-day life. It wasn't a hallucination because I knew they weren't there; I just felt better having this character with me. It eventually reached a point where the character became a nuisance and I couldn't get them out of my head, so I had to gradually move away from using daydreaming as a coping strategy.

    I'm sorry if this isn't very helpful - autistic people are so individual that it's very hard to say what's healthy versus unhealthy. If the character helps her to express herself and she gets enjoyment/comfort out of it, then I'd err on the side of healthy. If it's something she feels she can't move away from and she feels 'trapped' (e.g. in terms of having to use the character, but not wanting to), then that could be an indicator that it's an unhealthy coping mechanism.

    The National Autistic Society does have a helpline, so you could always contact them if you'd like some advice on how best to support Jess: www.autism.org.uk/.../contact-us.aspx

Children