Hallucinating children

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user Tali Le Bamba. Click for source.I’ve got an article in The Observer about childhood hallucinations which are much more common than we previously imagined.

You tend to get one of two reactions when you discuss children hallucination: that’s obvious – children live in a fantasy world, or that’s horrendous – there must be something very wrong with them.

The answer is that neither response is particularly accurate. Children’s fantasies are not the same as hallucinations but neither are they normally a sign of something ‘going wrong’ – although certain forms of hallucinations can suggest a more serious problem.

Hallucinations often reflect a bizarre, blurry version of our realities and because play is an everyday reality for children, the content can seem similar. Both can contain quirky characters, strange scenarios and inspire curious behaviour. One child described how he saw a wolf in the house, another that he had “Yahoos” living inside him that ate all his medicine. On the surface, these could just as easily be a child’s whimsy, but genuine hallucinations have a very different flavour. “In play and make-believe, children are imagining,” says Elena Garralda, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Imperial College London. “They do not have the actual perceptual experience of seeing and hearing.” Another key difference, notes Garralda, is that “hallucinations feel imposed and children cannot exercise a direct control over them”.

There’s more on these fascinating experiences in the full article linked below.

Link to ‘Childhood hallucinations are surprisingly common – but why?’

3 thoughts on “Hallucinating children”

  1. My 12 year old daughter used to have 2 imaginary friends, called “Finger” and “Hand”. They were her left and right hand respectively, and she used to constantly hold conversations between them. She is very well socially adjusted. I do wonder whether imaginary friends are an exercise in “mind modelling” (or whatever it’s called). They are certainly very real to the person imagining them, even though paradoxically the person also knows they are not “real”.

  2. I have a very distinct memory from my childhood that I’ve come to regard as a hallucination.

    I was maybe 5 or 6 at the time, my parents were away for the evening bowling and I was being watched by my sister. I had wandered into my parents’ bedroom, and standing across the room from me I saw a man. He was maybe in his 40s, had thin sandy-blond hair, and wore glasses. I’d never seen this man before in my life. As soon as he noticed me, he began walking toward me, around the bed which divided the room. I was scared, and I left the room. This is where my memory of the event ends – I figure if there had actually been a man in my parents’ room, something more would have come of this, but no one in my family knows anything about it. To me, it’s as though he disappeared when I exited the room.

    If I were a less skeptical man, I’d probably believe that I saw a ghost when I was a child.

    Brains are weird, man. =)

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