Thursday, October 4, 2007

Taking things Literally

The literature often talks about Aspergers people taking things literally.

The most common example of this being a child who is told to "pull their socks up" actually bending down to do so.

Now, before I go into the whys and wherefores, I'd just like to ask my "normal readers" to stop and think about this line for a minute. What exactly is it telling you to do? What would someone with less familiarity with the English language think?

I'm forever explaining things to my kids as "the English language is really quite silly" and "they shouldn't really do things like this but..." because a lot of the problems stem from the language itself. I'm not sure why normal people pick these things up faster than Aspergers people but I think it's to do with usage. Asperger's kids often have at least one asperger parent and while they've long since learned what these words mean, they don't use them in everyday speech, hence their children don't get used to them.

I certainly choose my words very carefully to increase my chances of being understood.

Fast Learning
I think that Aspergers children quickly learn not to take things so literally but that they do it by assuming that everyone is "kidding". Certainly it's true to say that everything has more than one meaning to an aspergers person and that they tend to quickly evaluate the various options in mid-conversation before choosing the most appropriate answer.

This can also lead to minor delays in conversation, depending upon how fast they evaluate things.

I guess this means that while a normal person probably always takes expressions like "pull your socks up" or "pull your finger out" to mean improve, and hurry up respectively, an aspergers person will always choose from four different definitions.

Literal Jokes
I'm trying not to get into the "not getting jokes bit" - I'll save that for another post, but I do want to cover how Aspergers people use their take on language for joke purposes.

Exhibit A
Last night, we had strawberries and cream for dessert. When I was cleaning up after the meal, my wife pointed to the strawberries saying that since they are greens they should go in the green bin. "oh.. but they're red", I said, with a wry grin. My wife proceeded to give me a reason why they are considered green, then realized that I was joking. I talked to her later and she said that a non-aspergers person wouldn't even consider the colour.

Exhibit B
Also last night... The trial period for scouts is almost over and I asked my son if he was ready to become a Joey. He said yes but that he wouldn't become a real joey. [for the non-Australian - A joey is like a small kangaroo]. He and I thought it was funny, but my wife didn't follow the joke and he had to repeat it before she understood. Once again, non-aspergers people tend to hold only one definition for a given context.

Final Thoughts on Taking Things Literally
Aspergers kids can learn to not take things literally but they don't seem able to let go of one meaning - they need to store both. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can cause delays in conversations and may also impact their ability to be understood.

How can you help?
Expose your children to as many "silly english phrases" as possible. Learning them early can save embarrassment later.

In particular, for me, the most embarrassing one was when I was told to bring a plate to a function.

(for my Aspergers readers: bring a plate actually means bring a plate with food on it for sharing - not just bring the plate).

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Damn, I was lucky you posted the AS-Answer... :P

thinkingaboutnothing said...

wow, yes, me too! lol i understand now the concept of needing/wanting to store as many meanings to a word, instead of, as u said, letting go of old ones.

Anonymous said...

I was really amused by my daughter's reaction to the christmas presents having to be under the tree. We all had rather flattened christmas pressies one year.

NKOTB4Eternity said...

I don't have AS but I found this interesting. BTW, I've never heard of the phrases "pull your socks up" or "pull your finger out".

Nikki said...

Oh, cripes, I actually DID the "literally bringing an empty plate" thing once...-facepalm- And I was sixteen, too. The people around me just good-naturedly laughed it off, but I felt really embarrassed.

Grumpy Old Man said...

"Epaminondas and His Auntie" is in the same vein: http://www.rickwalton.com/folktale/bryant18.htm

I suppose you can teach little kids the names of figures of speech--synecdoche, metonymy, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Man. I can't believe it! I think I may have found part of the answer to the man I have been wanting to marry it seems forever. I think he did the the things he did and reacted the way he did and said what he said at times cuz he may simply have Aspergers. What a relief. If he would have just told me long ago, we could have had more open fun times and dates. I had NO idea. Man I him soooo much and he was I guess afraid to tell me or something. If I only knew. Wasted time. I have found my soulmate. I get it now. I understand. Now I need to figure out a way to let him know I know and please be with me.

Anonymous said...

hi my question is we have found that my grandson has adhd dysgraphia cognative learning disabilities and is 3 points from genious iq. this has been a learning experence for me and our family. we were asked by the teachers why he writes on the back of his notebook paper sometimes. when i asked him he said that the teacher assigns a student to hand out the sheet of paper for the assignment to be written on. he said he feels like if the assigned student was assigned to do this then if the student set the sheet of paper upside down then he should write on it that way. although in my mind it seems so easy to have just turned the page over to him his answer was as clear to him as mine was to me. is this from asperger or adhd and dysgraphia please write back as soon as possible. when i explained the answer to the teachers they just made a slight grin and silence as if to say no we want another answer. i would appreciate your input. thank you grandee

OceanD said...

Thank you so much! My son has Aspergers and I do not. It was not until after I discovered he had it that I realized that his dad has it too...I just thought he was quirky and different in earlier years lol

My son takes things so literal. His dad HATES stand up comedy or joking of any kind of which I love. But for an Asperger its probably all balderdash. I thought he was just grumpy.

My son however, gets comedy and jokes better than his dad because he spends so much time with me. I have to explain it to him but after do that he gets it and enjoys it!

I use to get angry that I had to break everything down... but I will never again get angry. Its how he needs to learn. He is very sharp, he just sees things from a prospective I don't sometimes which can be funny...and in turn I see things from a different prospective than he does.

You have greatly helped a mommy of 8 yr old today...thank you

Ben Stein said...

I was wondering if traits of aspergers run in the family? My brothers and Dad all like to tweek things. For example, seeing a grill at the store and upgrading the design into a grill with two levels and made it longer and a smoker.
Also, English was brutal because I din't understand any of the logic behind doing the grammar rules. Although diagnosed with ADHD I think it might be more aspergers.

Anonymous said...

There is a really great book by author/iilustrator Serge Bloch, which covers the topic of our weird sayings. I have included a brief synopsis below (from GoodReads).

Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards by Serge Bloch
You can bet your bottom dollar this funny story is the cream of the crop—and the best thing since sliced bread! Award-winning artist Serge Bloch will have kids laughing their heads off at this child’s-eye look at idiomatic expressions like �ants in your pants,” �homework is for the birds,” and �cat got your tongue?” These commonly used sayings make sense in the adult world...more You can bet your bottom dollar this funny story is the cream of the crop—and the best thing since sliced bread! Award-winning artist Serge Bloch will have kids laughing their heads off at this child’s-eye look at idiomatic expressions like �ants in your pants,” �homework is for the birds,” and �cat got your tongue?” These commonly used sayings make sense in the adult world, but just imagine what a child pictures when she hears it’s �raining cats and dogs!” With witty and wonderful images that mix whimsical line drawings with photographs of inanimate objects, Bloch gives us a unique and sympathetic perspective on a boy’s first day of school where colorful butterflies flutter in our hero’s stomach and a cloud rains on him when he’s �under the weather.” Even the �big cheese” Principal has a body cut out of a block of Swiss.

Anonymous said...

Giving the simple phrase, " close your hand around the stick" to an asperger mean, close your hand and rotate around the stick and a non asperger would just grab the stick? I joke about taking things literally and i think my daughter might be like me......poor girl. Comments? Ideas?

Anonymous said...

Today my husband told me the plan on the wall of the hospital was the wrong side up. Since the entrance was shown on the underside it looked allright to me and I did not understand him. Until he told me that it should have been on the opposite wall, then laying it down would have shown the truth.

From this example you can clearly see I'm a NT ;)

Anonymous said...

!st day of fifth grade the nun was telling us of all the grand places she would take us around the world that year. To Spain, to Italy, London, the Far East. I took it literally, not realizing she meant in the book. I remember thinking, all this sounds barely doable in one year, but she said it. Halfway through the year I'm still getting mad that time is running out and we haven't gone to a single place yet. And why is no one calling her out on this blatant lie.

Only several years later did it dawn on me that the nun must not have meant we were physically going to these places.