There are certain effects that make language vivid and engaging, fun to use, and interesting to listen to (e.g., figures of speech, sarcasm, body language, tone of voice, etc.). But these effects can stand like sturdy roadblocks between the messages we try to give our Aspergers kids and their ability to receive them.
Aspergers kids with language processing problems, developmental delays, and other special needs can have genuine difficulty understanding the nuances and subtexts of language. If your Aspie reacts to something you've said in a way that surprises you (e.g., ignoring, overreacting, defying, misunderstanding, panicking, giving you that "deer in the headlights" look, etc.), then consider the following:
1. If your message is anything other than simple and straightforward, pare it down and try again. You may be surprised at how much more cooperative your youngster is when he actually knows what you want.
2. Just as you wouldn't talk to a 3-year-old the same way you'd talk to a 13-year-old and expect the same degree of comprehension, you can't talk to an Aspergers youngster with delayed language, social or emotional skills in a way that would be appropriate for his chronological age.
3. It's natural to try to add more and more explanation when you feel that your son or daughter doesn't understand what you're saying, but if language is the problem in the first place, adding more language probably isn't going to help.
4. Instead of trying to “tip” your Aspie to your meaning with tone of voice, body language and wordplay, use simple repetitive phrases that are easy to understand. If you want your youngster to do something, start by saying "I need you to ..." If you're talking about feelings, say "I feel ..."
5. Without an awareness of the way tone of voice and body language can change the meaning of words, your youngster may misinterpret your intention or your level of urgency.
6. You may be inflating your statements for humor or out of anger, but your youngster may think you really mean it. He may:
- accuse you of overreacting
- panic or overreact
- not know what to make of what you've said
- think you're being cruel
7. What seems friendly and harmless to you may seem threatening and confusing to an Aspergers youngster who does not understand that you don't really mean it – or even why you would say a thing you don't mean.
8. If you use an expression your youngster is not familiar with, or if he doesn't understand that words can be used in ways that have nothing to do with their literal meaning, then your statement may seem silly, annoying or incomprehensible.
9. If your youngster is unable to pick up cues from your tone of voice, he may take what you say at face value (i.e., the exact opposite of your meaning).
10. Children with Aspergers can learn to not take things literally, but they don't seem able to let go of one meaning (they need to store both). Thus, expose your Aspie to as many “silly phrases” as possible (e.g., “that opened up a can of worms” … “that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back” … “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” …etc.). Explain what each of these phrases mean. Learning them early can save confusion and embarrassment later.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook