Literally?

A trait of ASD that I display daily is assuming everything I see or hear is literal. I do not understand sarcasm or most jokes. In one of my driving lessons I was instructed to, ‘go right at the roundabout’ – so I literally turned right. I did not go around the correct way, (left here in the UK) I just turned the wheel to the right and off I went into oncoming traffic.

When I told my friends the following day at school they all laughed and called me dumb. I found this unfair and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have done the same. I thought it was a mistake I’d made as a result of being in only my second driving lesson. I now know it was due to my ASD.

Catchphrases and sayings are a big barrier. I never understand them – the first time I was saying goodbye to a friend and they replied, ‘see you later’ I became confused… I hadn’t got plans to see them later that day so why had they said it?

I have walked into a room before and heard the saying, ‘speak of the devil’ – have I done something wrong to make them think I am a devil? A task has been completed and an individual states it, ‘was a piece of cake’ – yet the task didn’t involve cake? My mum asking me if I am, ‘feeling under the weather’ – we are all always, ‘under’ the weather, it is always above us in the sky? What I am feeling is poorly.

Sometimes I feel like others are speaking a different language. I recognise it as English, but I do not understand the sequence in which they have chosen to put their words together. I usually respond my nodding my head or laughing to hide my misunderstanding.

I have learnt what many sayings mean over the years so can apply them to my language and, ‘fit in’. This isn’t to say I understand the point in them. To go, ‘up the apples and pears’ is the best example I can give. I understand it is cockney rhyming slang for, ‘going upstairs’, but what does it actually mean? What is the need for this phrase in the English language when one can just replace it with the correct term of, ‘going upstairs’?

Amongst my friendship group we make lots of jokes and make fun of one another; more commonly known as, ‘banter’. It took me trial and error to discover the limitations of, banter. There were times when I was younger that I said something genuinely hurtful to another, not on purpose, but I thought that was part of the communication technique – it wasn’t.

For people on the spectrum the etiquette of communication does not come as naturally as it would for neurotypicals. For me, I learnt through observation. I barely said a word in school until the age of 15. This was my way of learning how others built relationships through language. When I finally put all I had observed into practise it didn’t always go smoothly.

The problem I encountered the most was when it came to boys. I used to find it easier to get along with males than females. They are often less judgemental and at the time were easier for me to communicate with. However, the way I learnt to communicate with boys was by observing other girls and how do most girls communicate with boys in secondary school… by flirting. To me the term, ‘to flirt’ was only a thing to be done with a boy you wanted a loving relationship with, so when others accused me of flirting it made me confused and also angry. A group of girls were often cruel in their accusations. In my mind I was talking to my male friends in the only way I knew how, this made it frustrating when I received mean comments. I thought I was communicating correctly, when in fact I had been misled in my observations. Thankfully, the boys I was unintentionally flirting with never saw it as anything more than friendship and I am lucky enough to still be close to a number of them now. I have since learnt the difference between flirting and friendly conversation.

I am much better at communication than I once was, but I am still learning each day. I can build and maintain relationships with others, although I continue to be tripped up by language. I can communicate with ease to my family and friends, it is with strangers and particularly work colleagues where I struggle. I have come to accept that I won’t always understand and that it is OK to ask for a further, more precise explanation. I have Aspergers, and for me this means I need to not put pressure on myself to be consistently correct in communication. I need to realise and feel proud that if I have one good conversation a day then I have overcome a massive hurdle of living with Autism.

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