It’s Friday night. Somewhere in America the following interaction may be taking place:
Person 1: “Talk dirty to me!”
Person 2: “Um, okay. Top soil, compost….”
Person 1: “No! Say something hot!”
Person 2: "Oh, I see! Lava, campfire, boiling kettle…”
Person number 2 is not trying to be exasperating, they are just following directions, literally. Person number 2, most likely, has autism.
Autistic people see (and hear) the details.
A person with autism looking at a painting might see the flowers in the foreground, a dog amidst the trees and birds flying in the air. A non-autistic person will see the central image of a country house with a family and the overall feeling of contentment and peace that the painting is trying to convey.
In the same way, they will pick out the individual words or parts of a sentence.
Some language is easy to understand:
“Put the book on the table.”
Other sentences are harder for the literal, autistic mind to decipher:
“Break a leg!”
“There is more than one way to skin a cat!”
The non-autistic mind understands the meaning behind the words, or the whole picture. The autistic mind hears the words individually and may even form a mental picture of a broken leg or a cat without its skin.
Of course, an autistic adult is not going to break one of their legs on command, but they will be confused by the comment. Eventually, when they are given the explanation, “It’s bad luck to say, ‘Good luck!’ before a performance,” the experience is cataloged and they will not be confused the next time they hear it.
Many conversations end in frustration because of the way that people with autism hear words.
For a person with autism or Asperger's syndrome, a sentence won’t make sense if the non-autistic person failed to use the correct key words that lead to understanding, or the communication is filled with metaphoric language.
Determined autistics will press and question until they understand what is being said. Others, having had negative interactions in the past, will nod and smile and hope the next few sentences will clear up the misunderstanding.
Rewording the question can be helpful and patience is a must. Good communication is the key to making friendships and relationships last.
Communication begins with comprehension, literally.