Don’t eat your words

Working with children with autism has made me a very literal thinker. I have to be much more aware of my choice of words when I make a comment, and think twice before I say something that can be absolutely confusing.

This awareness even affects my conversations with other people. Whereas, I used to just say idioms that I grew up hearing, now I really think long and hard (there’s a metaphor right there) about what those sayings mean.

My mom has always used the phrase, “He has more problems than Carter has liver pills.” Or, “It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other.” I remember hearing these idioms growing up, using them as I got older, and never thinking twice about it.

Many of us learn language by imitating the people around us. I learned how to appropriately use these phrases. I knew in which situations to say them, but when it came down to it, I had to sit down and really think about the literal translation of these words.

Now, I laugh every time I use a meme, because I start to think what would my students think this actually means?

I am laughing as I write this post, because it brings me back to one of my most memorable in-home sessions with a family. The dad said to his son, “Go to your room and pick up your things.” Now, what the dad actually meant was, go put your toys that are on the floor in the containers where they belong.  So, the dad and I walk into the child’s room, because the boy was taking an exceptionally long time to come out. What we saw caused us to start laughing, but the boy just stood there, and said, “What? What’s so funny?” He was standing in his room, holding up his mattress. The boy said, “You told me to pick up my things. I am picking up my mattress!” I took this as a wonderful opportunity to teach him all about idioms.

Children with autism can definitely learn about figurative language, how to use memes and idioms, and what certain phrases mean. However, it’s not something that comes naturally.

I encourage you to spend a day listening to all of the sayings that people use around you. Write them down. Take notes on your phone. Then, sit down with your child and ask him if he knows what these sayings actually mean. Take the opportunity to teach him how figurative language works. You can make this activity even more fun by asking your child to draw pictures of what he envisions when you say certain idioms.

Please share with us:

Can you think of a time when you used one of your favorite idioms, and your child just stared at you as if to say, what the heck are you talking about?

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2 Comments
  • Christy Linville
    Posted at 17:09h, 05 January Reply

    One day I was having my daughter (she’s 12 and is nonverbal autistic). I was toileting her I handed her the toilet paper and said it’s time to wipe. She took the toilet paper and wiped her mouth. We have been working on wiping her mouth when she eats that’s what she thought I ment.

  • Susan
    Posted at 17:31h, 05 January Reply

    My hubs told our son to “Pick up the pace.” You can imagine the confusion… “what’s a pace?”

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