Aspergers Syndrome and Literal Meanings
In looking at the early language history of children with Aspergers Syndrome, there is no clear pattern: some have normal or even early achievement of milestones while others have delays in speech. Frequently children with Aspergers Syndrome display language characteristics such as repetitive sayings or the use of catch phrases they've heard on Television, at the movies, or on the radio.
However, a common feature of Aspergers Syndrome language difficulties is their tendency to misinterpret information, particularly idiomatic or literal language. Literal meanings can cause real angst to the Asperger child for a number of reasons.
Aside from not comprehending the abstract meaning behind an idiom, literal language arouses a number of internal rules for the AS child e.g. the rule issue; truth issues; and trust issues.
Take for example the adage 'In a minute'. Rest assured your Aspergers Syndrome child will be counting backwards from 60 the moment you utter these words. When the issue isn't resolved 'in a minute' those internal rules come to life. 'She said 'In a minute', so why isn't she keeping to it?' (Rule) 'Why didn't she tell the truth?' (Truth) 'I can't believe anything she tells me ever again!' (Trust)
When we neurotypicals use an expression such as 'In a minute' we mean an indeterminate amount of time - as long as it takes to finish what we are doing. We all 'get' that abstract or implied meaning. Asperger children don't. When a friend told her Asperger child 'Just a second', he replied 'One....I'm ready'.
Take the time to make sure your use of everyday language follows the 'Aspergers Syndrome rules', especially in times of stress when an inconsiderate choice of words could be the 'straw that broke the camel's back!'
In our family we have a competition to find unusual or new idioms. This gives rise to discussion and explanation, which helps to clear up any confusion. After many years of using this strategy with our Asperger son we are still managing to discover new phrases!
About the author:
Nelle Frances is the mother of a 15 year old with Aspergers Syndrome, a Special Needs Educator and Author of the Ben and His Helmet series of books for Asperger children. Her site http://www.nellefrances.com offers resources, strategies, articles and links on Aspergers Syndrome for parents and teachers.