If you’ve ever tried learning a foreign language you will know that idioms or figures of speech can make life a bit difficult. People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often feel like they have arrived in a foreign land, where the language and unwritten rules are confusing and frustrating. They are usually literal or concrete thinkers.
If you take a phrase which has a non-literal meaning, an idiom, such as ‘I’m going to hit the sack’ (meaning I’m going to bed) a person with ASD may look around for the bag you’re about to hit. They are constantly struggling with what they perceive as ridiculous and unnecessary turns of phrase.
It crosses my mind that they must be particularly pinged off with poets and creative writers such as myself, who find it very difficult to live without figurative speech – the use of metaphors, symbols, allusions and other essential tools of the craft. This is just one of many ironies I find myself confronted with as the mother of a boy with ASD.
You may think my title relates to how I feel sometimes about my son when not all goes to plan. In fact it is the reverse. I drive him up the wall with my particular way of speaking and my consistent inaccuracies. Michael has to frequently correct his poor mother, who is a fool for making so many mistakes of such an obvious nature. My most common mistake and one which happens on a daily basis relates to the clock. This is an example of concrete thinking.
I come from a family where expressions such as ‘that’s a bit slap dash but it’ll do’ and ‘near enough is good enough’ and ‘she’ll be right mate’ were commonly thrown around in a haphazard, yet humorous manner. This type of attitude is anathema to someone with ASD. When it came to saying what time it was, we were often found guilty of rounding off our minutes – shock, horror! To Michael’s consternation I still round off my minutes. A typical conversation goes like this:
Tessa says ‘What time is it mummy?’
I say ‘5.30 darling’
Michael responds with exasperation ‘It’s not 5.30, it’s 5.28’.
Mum’s wrong again – silly woman! I guess I’ll just have to ‘take it on the chin’ as I sure don’t want to ‘get a chip on my shoulder’.