Literal thinking in an Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) child goes far beyond the concrete thinking that is associated with young kids or learning disabled children. It results from the underlying communication disorder, which makes "Aspies" unable to understand the shifting meaning of words in changing situations. In addition, they tend to persevere in their first impression rather than discarding it to test other meanings.
Many times, a youngster with Aspergers will have a difficult time understanding that some words have different meanings. For example, my grandson's face was red from playing outside, and I said, "Your face is beet red." He couldn't understand how his face could be like a vegetable.
A good example of a homonym is to use the word "bow." You could mean a violin bow, a ribbon tied into a bow, a bow and arrow. Same spelling, but a different pronunciation is the bow of the ship or bowing from the waist. Same pronunciations, but different spellings are a bough from a tree or a beau. Confusing, isn't it? Imagine how confusing it is to a youngster with Aspergers!
Kids with Aspergers have a very difficult time understanding when it's polite to say something. When an Aspergers child sees an obese person, he thinks nothing of informing that lady that she's fat. He also doesn't understand why his statement would cause such a negative reaction. To him, he was simply telling the truth.
Aspergers children don't understand "white lies" or why we tell them. For example, why would I tell my mother-in-law that I love the tie she got me for Christmas, and then turn around and donate it to Goodwill? So I don’t hurt her feelings. A youngster with Aspergers will be brutally honest upon receiving an undesirable gift, and to say otherwise would be lying.
Since it is impossible to teach Aspergers youngsters every innuendo of speech as well as nonverbal cues and multiple meanings, they may eventually compensate in such ways as the following:
- By reading extensively for information rather than pleasure, preferring fact to fiction.
- By developing any nonverbal talents they may have to the point where they can earn the social approval they crave.
- By concentrating on subjects in which they can be exceedingly well-informed.
- By becoming precise in language, seeking words which have a definite concrete meaning.
As a result of their literal thinking, Aspergers children are easy victims of the unkind peer who likes to make fun at their expense. If Aspies react with anger to trickery, their problem is compounded. Even if they are philosophical about being teased, literal thinking is a decided handicap in school and on the job, because most people communicate with a kind of shorthand speech, which is not to be taken literally.
Everyone has a "blind spot" in learning and understanding things. Many of us don't understand algebra or chemistry. And how many of us just ‘laugh off’ the fact they can't even program our VCR? These are deficiencies we can usually work our life around or completely avoid. In an Aspergers child, the "blind spot" happens to be reading social and non-verbal cues – something one cannot work around or avoid.
Learning to say what we mean - and mean what we say - is often easier said than done. You can't just tell an Aspergers youngster, "If you don't do your homework - you're in deep trouble." Otherwise, he envisions himself in a hole - or worse. If you mean "it's raining hard," then don't say "it's raining cats and dogs."
It is important to think about how we, as parents, word things to the literal Aspergers youngster. If you have one of these literal kids, know that he is not doing this purposefully. Be patient and try to learn to think how he thinks. Some of the best minds in the world are very literal. Looking at life through an Aspie’s eyes can give you a whole new outlook on life.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook