“Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called ‘little professors’, but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome
This is frequently the basis of Sheldon jokes on The Big Bang Theory. Recently I responded to a friend’s comment on FB and he informed me that he was being sarcastic. I should have asked him to hold up a sign next time.
But I don’t think I have much trouble anymore with interpreting figurative language or sarcasm. I’m more aware of the times I’m being sarcastic and other people take me literally. That happens especially when I say something I think is obviously sarcasm because no one could be that dumb. They sometimes think I really am that dumb and explain it to me. I’ve given up correcting them.
But this brings up something that keeps getting to me when I’m researching Asperger’s online. Most of what I find is aimed at parents of kids with AS, things written by AS or non-AS, explaining AS for an audience of non-AS. I can’t find much of anything to help me understand the way non-AS folks think.
It’s little things that get to me. I recently tried to find out from my therapist how people can use the word “tomorrow” in an email when they don’t know when that email will be read. What are they thinking? Of talking to the person in real-time, and then just writing what they would say in that situation? Are they unaware that they’re writing an email? Or of thinking when it will be read? I would have said that I never use that word in emails, but a search of my Sent file found exceptions. Looking at the context, however, I notice there’s always some reason I wanted to use a relative term, such as using “I’ll do it tomorrow” as short-hand for “I wasn’t able to get to it today, but I will tomorrow.” But I would not be capable of writing an email, especially in the evening, saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” which I noticed her doing twice.
I guess I’ve always assumed that everyone wants to speak clearly and could speak clearly if they tried. Maybe they’re dumb or lazy and unable to speak clearly themselves, but if I’m careful to be clear, surely they’ll understand me. I’ve tried to figure out the exceptions, the special codes. For example, if I ask a question like “Where did you put . . . ?” they don’t think it’s a question, but a criticism. So I guess I need to find some other way to ask it. Or maybe preface it with an explanation of some kind. Mostly when I ask a question and the other person is obviously interpreting it to mean something else, all I can think to do is just keep asking the same question in different words until I can figure out the answer from their response.
And in emails, the rule seems to be the only response I can expect is to the last sentence. Any questions before that are invisible.
But do you see my point? Even if I figure out what they mean, I still can’t figure out how to get them to understand what I’m trying to say. I know what I’m trying to say literally, but when I say it that way, they think it means something else. How can I put it into their non-literal code? With experience, I’ve learned some of the code, although it’s difficult for me to speak in it, but for so many things, I have no idea how to make people understand me when being literal doesn’t work.
Let me brag about a recent accomplishment, silly as it probably seems to anyone else. I recently said $1400 as “Fourteen hundred dollars.” To me, that feels all wrong. When someone says that to me, it’s like hearing something in the metric system and having to translate it in my head to understand it. It should be “One thousand, four hundred dollars” and I always used to have to say it that way. But I managed to say “Fourteen hundred dollars” the other day, because I know that’s how everyone else says it. That’s the right translation into their code.
Even when I was working on the theory that there was something different in my brain wiring, something I thought of as my having a defective “herd instinct” gene, I still couldn’t do things like that. Somehow, now that I’m thinking of it as part of Asperger’s — part of something that makes sense and fits into a pattern — it’s easier to accept and, ironically, to compensate for. It doesn’t make me say “I have a medical excuse so you have to accommodate me.” I don’t have to avoid thinking about it because it’s too crazy. I can just deal with it.