Monday, October 8, 2007

Taking things Literally - Part 2 An Adult Perspective

In my last post on taking things literally, I covered things that were mainly from a child's perspective but this time I want to cover a more adult view.

Wordplay and Jokes
There seems to be a widespread belief amongst doctors and related practitioners that asperger's people don't get jokes, don't understand metaphors, and don't read body-language. This is wrong, very wrong.

From what I can gather, based on my own experiences and on reading posts from a lot of other aspies, wordplay is fun and we definitely understand it. Also surprisingly, aspie children understand it too. My earlier post with my son talking about becoming a joey illustrates that.

I'm inclined to say that not only do aspies understand wordplay but that they may often be better at it than non-aspies. Due, at least in part, to their need/ability to consider multiple-meanings for phrases. I touched on this in my earlier post.

So, where's the problem then?

It seems that the problem is based mainly around the time taken to interpret a conversation.

In terms of jokes, the problem can be in the time taken to "switch modes" from serious to humorous interpretation. Note that aspergers people often have no problems watching comedy television because they're expecting a comic slant on words and phrases.

The Delay in Action
Conversations aren't designed for pauses. You're not given much time to consider the meaning of something you here. I know that often I feel pressured to respond to a comment made by someone in a "timely fashion". All too frequently, a few seconds later, I'll become aware of something that changes the entire meaning of what was just said.

It may be that the tone suggested something else, or that there was a dual-meaning word or that the person was using some sort of mannerism or gesture. Whatever the source, the new information completely changes the context of the person's statement and I feel like an idiot.

[An Aside: There's some research (apparently) which suggests that Aspergers people gather data first, then interpret - compared to non-aspergers who do both simultaneously. I haven't seen that research yet, but will keep a lookout for it]


Writing versus Talking
Talking face-to-face or via telephone presents the aspie with two problems. First of all, it makes it possible for the other party to introduce variations in speaking tone or body language/gestures. Secondly, it introduces a timeliness element, whereby the aspie needs to interpret the conversation and respond within a very short time frame.

Until very recently, I thought my over-reliance on the written medium (writing / email / Chatting / SMS-ing) was due to my deafness. It's now becoming obvious that this is an aspie trait.


Personality Labels on Aspergers People
This is probably a whole topic in itself but I just want to touch on it briefly now - I'll discuss it a length some other time.

Parents take note - this topic does concern your children

The way in which an aspie deals with the problems of their language interpretation delay will shape them as an adult. This typically happens during their school years.

  • If your child responds in a completely off-the-wall mode, (misinterpretations can cause funny results), then that child is more likely to become a class clown. I fell into that category. The social label tends to be that they're a loony / crazy, funny etc.

  • If your child tends to get annoyed when they misinterpret something they're more likely to be classified as arrogant or crabby. I've read posts from a lot of people who have unfortunately been given this social label.

  • If your child persists in trying to correct his or her mistakes, they get classified as pedantic, serious or square.


I don't know if there's a middle road to this or not. I haven't found one yet.

8 comments:

Ninja Of The Mundane said...

Do you know of any online research or explanation of why Asperger's people have such a hard time on the phone? I'm one of those people and I'd like to understand it better.

Gavin Bollard said...

As far as I can tell, the telephone problems stem from the problems aspies have interpreting verbal and tonal cues.

If you have problems on the phone but not in a face-to-face situation then it's likely that you've learned to rely on visual cues to determine people's moods, intentions and even conversation start and end points.

I expect that if you had a conversation with someone and kept your eyes closed throughout, you'd experience exactly the same problems.

There's not a lot of research on the subject (one of the reasons I hope this blog is unique) but it's mentioned in a lot of forums.

There's a funny paragraph in Tony Attwood's complete guide to Asperger's Syndrome P218 where a caller asked an aspie if her sister was there. Her sister wasn't in the room, so she said "No" and hung up.

Vector E said...

"I don't know if there's a middle road to this or not. I haven't found one yet."

I've been classified as all three at one time or another, depending on my mood, the situation, how well people know me, etc.

I, too, wish I could get to the bottom of my phone phobia. It's one of the biggest obstacles in my life, both professional and private.

M.D said...

I'm currently being tested for the Asperges-Syndrome...I recently had a IQ test.

I hate phonecalls, I never know what to say, I get a little panicky...It's horrible. Whenever I'm supposed to call someone, I always practice first; to ensure I won't make any mistakes. Whenever someone calls me, I tend to talk really slow and to other people it seems like I don't really care about what they say. I only sound cheerful when saying goodbye, because I can hang up.

Once my cousin called me and asked how I was (which is a normal part of a conversation) and I said: "I'm okay. WHY?" So I tend to react really weird.

Audra said...

I hate talking on the phone! I tend to space out frequently, and when the person on the phone starts in on a conversation I'm not interested in, I lose focus and miss most of what they say. Sometimes I can bluff my way through by laughing when they laugh (even if I've heard what they say but don't understand where the humor lies) or gasping when they have an obviously exaggerated tone of voice.

But most times I get into trouble when I give an inappropriate response to what they've said (whether I've actually been listening or not) and they'll ask me what I meant by my response.

So yeah...no phone convos for me unless I absolutely have to!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this blog is AMAZING. I keep having to pause after reading a paragraph just to reflect, since while I'm reading it I'm too busy thinking, "Is this guy reading my mind?!"

As to talking on the phone, I also am very uncomfortable with it. One of the problems with it, for me, is that a phone call means somebody has to tell me something urgently... That isn't really what happens all the time, but it's the way I feel about it. If somebody calls me rather than texts or emails me, I assume something very important is happening RIGHT NOW. As a result, I can't call others unless I feel there is a dire need, as well. If somebody calls me expecting chitchat, I first have to realize that nothing huge happened. Second, I realize that I'm about to be forced into a conversation. At that, all your points about not knowing the cues of conversation becomes my big concern. "Are they done talking? Was he being sarcastic or is he actually asking me that? What do I say in response? Gosh, I really don't care about this nonsense he's rambling on about. Wait, is he expecting me to respond now? Shoot, he's expecting something sympathetic. Umm, umm..."

Katherine Bradfield said...

Hi, I'm in the process of trying to be tested for Aspergers (it is expensive) and I agree with the thought that Aspies are actually quite good at understanding body language, tone and other. In fact, I know that when I 'look' at people I am actually too intense because I am good at reading people, and so I try to defuse the intensity by looking away. On purpose, I will alter my own body language to help me, if I feel there's a need. My GP is convinced I am not Aspie, and he is actually bullying me into seeing a psychiatrist saying I have anxiety disorder. However when he needed to take a phone call during a session with him, and he asked me to 'wait outside' I did so 'literally, and stood in the corridor outside the consulting room, thinking I was doing the right thing, being compliant. I need proformas and instruction to know how to progress properly and I like to do so 'well'. I flounder if I have no clear direction. He was actually taken aback that when he came out of the room I was just 'there'. If I am anxious it is because of him :) I do not worry about the future overly much and want to simply deal with the 'now' properly. I'm a high achiever and have been getting High Distinctions in study. I have a focus for career and am intent on it. Phone talk is fine for me. however I don't like it when I speak too much. I hear the change in the other person's tone when I have taken up too much of their time. However I just want to have things done properly. IN doing this I have made the opposite of friendships along the way. Why are so many people slack and happy with that approach? Yes people must be careful what they say to me. I will take them literally if it isn't 'too' far fetched. I'm going to book mark this page, it seems helpful. So many people do not understand Asperger's, and they are quite derisive. It doesn't help to be more thorough than your own doctor. I have discovered this. It put him offside. But I cannot help it :((( If you seem to be doing very well, seem to be too intelligent or have high aspirations others really do seem to want to squash you. Thankfully there are some great individuals around, who are also quite helpful and understanding. One simply has to find them.

Katherine Bradfield said...

Hi, I'm in the process of trying to be tested for Aspergers (it is expensive) and I agree with the thought that Aspies are actually quite good at understanding body language, tone and other. In fact, I know that when I 'look' at people I am actually too intense because I am good at reading people, and so I try to defuse the intensity by looking away. On purpose, I will alter my own body language to help me, if I feel there's a need. My GP is convinced I am not Aspie, and he is actually bullying me into seeing a psychiatrist saying I have anxiety disorder. However when he needed to take a phone call during a session with him, and he asked me to 'wait outside' I did so 'literally, and stood in the corridor outside the consulting room, thinking I was doing the right thing, being compliant. I need proformas and instruction to know how to progress properly and I like to do so 'well'. I flounder if I have no clear direction. He was actually taken aback that when he came out of the room I was just 'there'. If I am anxious it is because of him :) I do not worry about the future overly much and want to simply deal with the 'now' properly. I'm a high achiever and have been getting High Distinctions in study. I have a focus for career and am intent on it. Phone talk is fine for me. however I don't like it when I speak too much. I hear the change in the other person's tone when I have taken up too much of their time. However I just want to have things done properly. IN doing this I have made the opposite of friendships along the way. Why are so many people slack and happy with that approach? Yes people must be careful what they say to me. I will take them literally if it isn't 'too' far fetched. I'm going to book mark this page, it seems helpful. So many people do not understand Asperger's, and they are quite derisive. It doesn't help to be more thorough than your own doctor. I have discovered this. It put him offside. But I cannot help it :((( If you seem to be doing very well, seem to be too intelligent or have high aspirations others really do seem to want to squash you. Thankfully there are some great individuals around, who are also quite helpful and understanding. One simply has to find them.