Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Any parent of an Aspie understands how important it is to say what you mean and mean what you say. Aspies are literal thinkers. They see the world in black and white. They tell the truth, don't understand why someone would tell a "white lie" to protect someone's feelings or, for that matter, why someone would not want to hear the truth.


    Long before I knew anything about Asperger's syndrome, I knew my son thought a different way than his siblings. For years, my husband, a conceptual thinker, would try to explain something only to look at me and ask, "Can you explain it to him?" And I would, in concrete terms. I learned early how to talk to my son so he would understand. His sister, as only a sibling can do, used to tease him, "You are from Pluto." He thought she really believed he was from Pluto and was shocked and confused when I told him she didn't. "Then why does she say it?"

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    For someone who thinks only in literal terms, the many different idioms used in every day speech can be confusing. Imagine how your Aspie might interpret any of the following:

    • A drop in the bucket
    • A leopard can't change his spots
    • A chip on your shoulder
    • A piece of cake
    • A taste of your own medicine
    • It costs an arm and a leg
    • At the drop of a hat
    • Bite your tongue
    • Ants in your pants
    • Bend over backwards

    You get the idea. We often use these phrases in our speech and the Aspie's in our life are imagining the literal meaning. Rather than understanding our meaning, they are totally confused. Learning to communicate with your Aspie involves learning to speak in his language as well as teaching him yours.


    Your child doesn't purposely think in literal terms, he doesn't think this way to annoy you. He wants to understand but the words just make no sense. When talking to your child, filter out the idioms and the figures of speech. Say what you mean. For example, don't say someone is "feeling blue" say he is feeling sad. Even subjective terms, like beautiful, can be confusing-your child may simply see "good" and "bad" without understanding the many different degrees in between. Be aware of how your child may interpret what you say. While this might take some practice, learning to see the world through their eyes and trying to convey the exact meaning of your speech will help build communication and give your child the sense that he can come to you with questions about the world around him.


    But in order for your Aspie to communicate with others, classmates, friends and later co-workers, he will also need to learn to speak your language. Explain what figures of speech and an idioms are, talk about how people use these to describe their feelings. You may want to make a list of common idioms and figures of speech and go over the meaning of each. Neurotypical children can often discern the meaning of these types of sayings through context but your child may have a hard time doing so. Giving him specific information will help him sort through conversations to better understand those he comes into contact with.


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    As your child goes through different stages of his life, his classmates speech changes. Try to keep up with common sayings used in different age groups. For example, a teen may say, "hanging out" which conjures up an entirely different image than its meaning. To help your Aspie fit in and get along with his classmates. If you have teens in your family, siblings, nieces, nephews, ask what today's popular sayings are so you can help your Aspie talk with his classmates.




Published On: November 21, 2011