Autism Wiki
Mathematical Woman by MissLunaRose

"Mathematical Woman" by autistic artist Miss Luna Rose

Autistic people tend to take things literally. They may have trouble with metaphors, sarcasm, and figures of speech - failing to recognise the difference between a joke and something serious.

Here's an example of conversation involving "literal thinking";

  • Mum: Go break a leg!
  • Son: Why would I break my leg?

As they get older, autistic people often learn how to take things figuratively, but may have trouble telling whether someone is serious. Jokes and sarcasm may still confuse them, along with figures of speech they haven't memorized.

  • Jessica: (smiling as she sees Sara approaching) Uh oh, here comes trouble!
  • Sara: !?

To understand humor better, autistic people may read and watch comedies and share jokes with others. If they struggle with expressions such as "the pot calling the kettle black," they may find a book of idioms helpful. Old cartoons may be useful as these are littered with literal gags, such as "Walk this way, sir" followed by an exaggerated walk that the subject copies. In a live action movie, Dudley Moore pulled this sight gag in Arthur. An excellent example of identifying the gag comes from Bugs Bunny in Rabbit Rampage when reminding the off screen artist that rabbits have long ears, resulting in ears that stretched as far as the eye could see. Bugs promptly stated "Don't be so dang literal".

The flipside of literal thinking is improved logical skills. Autistic people may be especially adept with mathematics, computers, and logic puzzles. Parents may want to buy toys that encourage the development of these skills, and autistic people may want to pursue a career in STEM.