Literal understanding

A common characteristic amongst children and young people with autism is the difficulty in understanding abstract concepts.

This means that non-tangible ideas, things or objects  can be often difficult to comprehend. Many of those with autism are considered concrete thinkers who tend to focus on the “here and now”.  This can lead to difficulties  in generalisations. As part of concrete thought process there is therefore a tendency to take words or phrases literally. Within the English language there is an extensive range of slang words and phrases, puns and paradoxes. This can present  as challenging for those with autism.

It is therefore important to consider what you are saying and how the child or young person with autism might misinterpret what you are saying, as they may take what you are saying literal.

Cartoon showing how to keep your eye on the ball

For example, if you say “It was so cold, I saw polar bears with blankets

The child or young person with autism may look for polar bears with blankets.  Alternatively using an expression such as ‘crying your eyes out’ can be taken literally and may cause the child or young person distress or fear which in turn may result in challenging behaviour.

Remember that what we take as simple phrases such as “frog in my throat,” “your in the dog house” and “give me a ring” may take on an entirely different meaning for the individual with autism.  This is therefore a very important consideration to bear in mind when we are communicating, teaching for example the child to read for reading, and trying to empower the individual with autism.

For further reading