Autism and Fun with Literalism

It’s hard to know what to do when someone you love is given a diagnosis of a ‘problem’ that you don’t understand well. There’s always some relief in having a diagnosis, because it’s simply easier to deal with something you can name.

Autism is one such diagnosis. Oh, the horror of finding you that your child or someone that you love is autistic. You’ve seen Rain Man. You’ve heard what they’re saying over there at Autism Speaks. It’s a death sentence. It’s institutionalization. It’s the end of the world.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world. Autism isn’t a disease to be cured. It’s a different way to perceive the world. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and once one understands the nuances of how those with autism see their world, then it really can be a joy.

Autism comes with gifts.

One characteristic of autism is that everything – I mean everything – is taken literally. Sarcasm is almost entirely lost on the autistic, though they can learn to recognize it. Autistics are a little like Vulcans in that regard. Everything from their mouth is straightforward and factual.

When we were just learning about autism, not so long after my son was diagnosed, we were met face-to-face with this literalism.

I can’t remember what we were talking about. We were in the car, my husband driving, my in the passenger seat, and our son in the middle of the back seat. My husband and I were talking about some problem, and I exclaimed, “Well that’s just wonderful.”

From the back seat came this. “That’s not wonderful, Mommy. That’s terrible. Why would you say that?”

That was not the first, and definitely not the last, time we had to explain sarcasm to our son. Really, when you think of it, what’s the point of sarcasm. “Yes, dear. People say the opposite of what they mean to illustrate how strongly they feel.”

Yeah, maybe there’s something wrong with the rest of us.

Most adult autistics are aware that they take things literally. Not being autistic myself, I’m not exactly sure how they cope, other than to learn the typical situations in which sarcasm is used and learn to respond appropriately. No doubt, it leads to many awkward moments.

These same adults are also aware that their literalism can result in some wildly entertaining stories.

And on that note this Thursday, from 7-9pm EST, there will be a Twitter chat about just that topic.

Shaun of the Stim


Fun with Literalism

Join the Twitter conversation with the Hashtag #LtrlFn

Or just watch by clicking here.

Those with autism, as well as their close allies, will be discussing bright moments in their lives where the use of sarcasm, idioms, euphemisms, etc., have had hysterical results.

I’ll be there (I’m @paleololigo on Twitter). Will you?


  1. Thank you for letting us know a little bit about how your son views the world. I commend you for talking so openly about autism, and for recognizing that what some people see as limitations, other people see as gifts. I live with depression, another condition with stigmas attached that is widely misunderstood, so I know how important it is for all of us to share our stories. Awareness is one step on the road to acceptance.


    1. Penny says:

      Depression is no fun. Both I and my son have dealt with it. So many cruel stigmas. Awareness is everything.


  2. My son is the same way. I have to remind people of this so they won’t chronically say things he will comment about. He even says, “I don’t like sarcasm” or “What do you mean (insert example of whatever the person said)?

    I agree – autism comes with some phenomenal gifts. My daughters love their brother with a ferocity, just like I loved my younger brother who had Down’s Syndrome with a ferocity.

    Popped over from the Ultimate Blog Challenge facebook group. I’m glad I’m here!


    1. Penny says:

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m working very hard to help my son know that 1) he’s not alone and 2) he’s not broken either. When we can laugh about things like this, it goes a long way.


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