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.
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.
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?