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Kuribo

"Taking everything literally"

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Kuribo

It's still fairly common to hear that autistic people "take everything literally" and "don't understand sarcasm". Through examining my own experience and observing others from various ends of the spectrum, I've come to view this as an oversimplification. I think that the instinct to read between the lines is just as present in most of us as it is in neurotypicals, and that our difficulty lies in doing it accurately.

My sister is autistic and quite severely learning disabled (childhood speech delay, mental capacity of around 6/7 years old). She seeks constant emotional reassurance, yet increasingly takes offence when we give it to her, as it's taken to imply that she isn't happy (something she resents ever admitting), when this isn't how it's intended. Even an innocuous remark about something positive that happened in the past will be misinterpreted as implying that her life isn't as good in the present. This isn't the behaviour of someone who takes spoken communication at face value, but someone who instinctively tries and fails to do the opposite.

I would even say that a significant number of high-functioning autistics I've met offline through various social groups actually have an above-average grasp of irony. Even with obvious social and communication difficulties, their approach to humour often tends to be quite dark, twisted and sarcastic.

As for me, while I do have difficulty with non-verbal communication, and there are times when the true meaning of a sarcastic comment might elude me, I definitely don't lack an instinctive understanding that language can't reliably be taken at face value. I have come across a few who genuinely do seem to lack this instinct, but my experience suggests that its prevalence is overstated.

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Dr-David-Banner
8 hours ago, Kuribo said:

It's still fairly common to hear that autistic people "take everything literally" and "don't understand sarcasm". Through examining my own experience and observing others from various ends of the spectrum, I've come to view this as an oversimplification. I think that the instinct to read between the lines is just as present in most of us as it is in neurotypicals, and that our difficulty lies in doing it accurately.

My sister is autistic and quite severely learning disabled (childhood speech delay, mental capacity of around 6/7 years old). She seeks constant emotional reassurance, yet increasingly takes offence when we give it to her, as it's taken to imply that she isn't happy (something she resents ever admitting), when this isn't how it's intended. Even an innocuous remark about something positive that happened in the past will be misinterpreted as implying that her life isn't as good in the present. This isn't the behaviour of someone who takes spoken communication at face value, but someone who instinctively tries and fails to do the opposite.

I would even say that a significant number of high-functioning autistics I've met offline through various social groups actually have an above-average grasp of irony. Even with obvious social and communication difficulties, their approach to humour often tends to be quite dark, twisted and sarcastic.

As for me, while I do have difficulty with non-verbal communication, and there are times when the true meaning of a sarcastic comment might elude me, I definitely don't lack an instinctive understanding that language can't reliably be taken at face value. I have come across a few who genuinely do seem to lack this instinct, but my experience suggests that its prevalence is overstated.

I think the emotional blindness and face blindness are tied in the way Asperger described. That is with autism you don't interpret insinctive emotion and tend to rely upon literal wording and expr

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Dr-David-Banner

Trying to post but not going through.

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Dr-David-Banner

Sorry about that. My posts don't send any more but just bounce back. Internet works very badly these days and can't even open the site on Chrome.

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Dr-David-Banner

I was trying to post that often I don't figure out whether someone is genuinely being nice, for example, or just putting up with me. The inability to tune into emotions leaves me kind of clueless. I read that some groupings of autisics have this emotional blindness worse. As well as face blindness.

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Ben

It's a personality trait more than anything. I know SO many people who have a hard time grasping sarcasm and even more who can't read subliminal messaging. 

A shocking amount actually, and none of them are autistic. I have friends, where the only language we speak is cryptic sarcasm. If we spoke in the literal sense we'd all be confused. 

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Dr-David-Banner
On 10/1/2019 at 1:09 PM, Kuribo said:

It's still fairly common to hear that autistic people "take everything literally" and "don't understand sarcasm". Through examining my own experience and observing others from various ends of the spectrum, I've come to view this as an oversimplification. I think that the instinct to read between the lines is just as present in most of us as it is in neurotypicals, and that our difficulty lies in doing it accurately.

My sister is autistic and quite severely learning disabled (childhood speech delay, mental capacity of around 6/7 years old). She seeks constant emotional reassurance, yet increasingly takes offence when we give it to her, as it's taken to imply that she isn't happy (something she resents ever admitting), when this isn't how it's intended. Even an innocuous remark about something positive that happened in the past will be misinterpreted as implying that her life isn't as good in the present. This isn't the behaviour of someone who takes spoken communication at face value, but someone who instinctively tries and fails to do the opposite.

I would even say that a significant number of high-functioning autistics I've met offline through various social groups actually have an above-average grasp of irony. Even with obvious social and communication difficulties, their approach to humour often tends to be quite dark, twisted and sarcastic.

As for me, while I do have difficulty with non-verbal communication, and there are times when the true meaning of a sarcastic comment might elude me, I definitely don't lack an instinctive understanding that language can't reliably be taken at face value. I have come across a few who genuinely do seem to lack this instinct, but my experience suggests that its prevalence is overstated.

"I have come across a few who genuinely do seem to lack this instinct, but my experience suggests that its prevalence is overstated."

The most overstated generalisation I hear (even by many psychiatrists) is that those of us with autism only appear smart due to rote-learning. We're supposed to gather lots of facts and data about our pet subjects but have "real understanding" of the subject. Still that's a bit off-topic.

Let's specify what literal interpretation is and non-verbal impairment:

These days I believe these symptoms tend to vary along the autism spectrum. They do apply to myself on this occasion, I think. Basically it means that, in a group, you struggle to pick up on instinctive behavioural demands which I ought to put in basic terms. For example, the group is speaking along sad lines and you crack a joke. Or you fail to sense a requirement to be serious or sympathise. You may say something and be totally out of synch. Very often too, there's a failure to show empathy when it's expected. Very often I lose friends due to this. They have told me some bad news and I tend to just not respond as normal. I once had a best friend with autism and he was likewise awful at showing sympathy or deeper understanding (a dose of my own medicine).

However, directly to the point it seems some autists are indeed sarcastic or exhibit sarcasm so that is something to consider. Many of us tend to be sarcastic and crack jokes with puns.

Research I have from the USSR (dated 1980s) I felt maybe cleared a few things up for me. Soviet researchers noticed where there is a delay in speech in early childhood, and if the speech is non-communicative and mumbling, the autism in later life is deeper and more autistic. More acute as well. This refers to symptoms like motor clumsiness, difficulties in interaction, inappropriate and odd behaviour. Yet it was noticed other autists show premature (and communicative) speech in infancy. These "develop" autism around aged two but it's less acute and said group tends to be more intellectual. Maybe there is here a better chance of social integration.

And lastly, I won't be posting that much in future due to troublesome issues with the internet. Either my phone is getting old or the internet is just becoming more difficult to use. Most of my posts just get lost and I've no time to retype stuff. 

 

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Ben
6 hours ago, Dr-David-Banner said:

Research I have from the USSR 

 

... You don't know how lucky you are, booooy.

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Sanctuary
On 10/1/2019 at 1:09 PM, Kuribo said:

It's still fairly common to hear that autistic people "take everything literally" and "don't understand sarcasm". Through examining my own experience and observing others from various ends of the spectrum, I've come to view this as an oversimplification. I think that the instinct to read between the lines is just as present in most of us as it is in neurotypicals, and that our difficulty lies in doing it accurately.

I think you're right on this one. Literal-mindedness or lack of ability to detect irony / sarcasm is greatly exaggerated. All of us - including neurotypicals - occasionally fail to detect irony or hidden meanings but this is often the fault of the communicator, not the receiver, e.g. an ironic or sarcastic comment may be delivered so subtly or dryly that it is misinterpreted as being that person's actual belief. Occasionally the communicator actually wants their words to be interpreted ambiguously with only some who know them very well grasping their real meaning. This can be the basis of "subversive humour" where it might be risky for someone to make their irony too clear. 

I feel all too often in outlines of autistic characteristics too much attention is given to how autistic people understand the world and not enough on how they project or communicate with others. If there are issues with sarcasm or irony the problem may be more when those with autism communicate. Due to problems with tone of voice, facial expression, etc, autistic individuals are more likely to have their meaning misinterpreted. Sincere, honest comments may be wrongly seen as insincere, half-hearted and even sarcastic while ironic and sarcastic comments are wrongly seen as being expressions of true belief. I'm sure everyone here has had such experiences of being misinterpreted and negatively judged,

David also raised a good point about possible issues with using what are seen as inappropriate responses. Due to issues with communication individuals with ASD may seem too serious in light-hearted situations, too casual, flippant or good-humoured in serious situations or otherwise "not matching the mood" or "speaking out of place". The world of interaction can seem a minefield and often the tempting option is to keep out of it, to stay silent or otherwise maintain a low profile. However that raises its own risks of being seen as unresponsive. In all these situations the autistic person is often very able to understand the meanings of others but finds it difficult to respond in the ways others are looking for..

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