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Taking things Literally - Part 2 An Adult Perspective

Posted Oct 08 2007 12:00am
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.
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