Taking things literally but not always for the best

A common trait in people with autism and Asperger syndrome is that they take common expressions literally. For example a neurotypical person could say, “maybe we should hang out sometime,” and a person with autism could respond with, “hang out of what?” Below are some examples of situations where I have taken things literally expressions or otherwise:

The earliest example I can think of in which I have taken an idiom literally was when I was a little girl and I was in the car on the M4 with my family. I was probably misbehaving and my mum told me to, “cut it out!” I replied, “I haven’t got any scissors!” It soon dawned on me that, “cut it out,” actually meant, “stop it.”

When I was 14 I read an article in Mizz, which was my favourite pre-teen/teenage magazine at the time, about autism and there was a girl called Emma who was the same age as me and had Asperger syndrome, which was the type of autism I have claimed to have had ever since but have not received an official diagnosis of yet (I was actually diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder when I was four) because I likened my traits to Emma’s such as having an average or high intelligence and getting stressed in huge crowds of people. Emma also mentioned taking expressions literally. She once heard the phrase, “sticking your neck out,” and she thought it meant making herself more noticeable. A few years after I read that article I asked my mum what the aforementioned phrase meant and she explained it actually meant, “putting yourself at risk.”

At my former care home I used to attend a communication group, which helped my fellow housemates and me with our communication skills, and in one session we had to guess what certain idioms meant. The most memorable idiom from that session was, “she really flew off the handle,” and I correctly guessed it meant, “getting angry,” or, “losing one’s temper.” Nowadays I am a lot more understanding with common everyday expressions and their meanings.

Other things I take literally are authoritative rules and instructions. For example I have been in quiet carriages on trains where people have spoken on their phones where they were not supposed to and that really annoyed me. More recently I was at the GP* with my dad and we were in a seating area where there was a sign saying that mobile phones were not to be used. There was a lady sitting opposite us and she was talking on her mobile. I went into meltdown and repeatedly said she was upsetting me so my dad and I got up to move seats. I was even worried someone would snatch her phone from her and throw it onto the road. Soon my dad and I were escorted to a quieter seating area of the GP.

Despite my better understanding of idioms, I do find myself getting annoyed or agitated when people ‘defy’ authoritative rules and instructions.

*Location has been changed.


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