“Stop taking things so literally!”

I have lost count of the number of times someone has said (often shouted, to be honest!) the above phrase in sheer frustration at the fact that I am not grasping the intended meaning of what is being said. I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to talk to someone who continually misunderstands what you are saying to them but the point that I am aiming to explain in this post is that it is equally as frustrating, if not more so, to a lot of people with Aspergers.

Without meaning to brag, I consider myself to be fairly intelligent so I get annoyed and angry with myself when I cannot understand the deeper meanings behind what someone is saying and have to ask for clarification or suffer the consequences of such a misunderstanding. Over the years, I have learned the intellectual and logical reasoning behind a lot of the nonsensical sayings that people love to use, such as, “Cutting off your nose to spite your face!” and, “Don’t bite my head off!” Indeed I do, on occasion, use statements that are not literally true and I also use sarcasm on occasion. What I tend to struggle with now are instructions that someone is giving me if they do not make them specific enough and phrases that have more than one intended meaning. I know that some people may consider me to be deliberately obtuse but this is not the case. I do genuinely want to pick up intended meanings instinctively, the way most people I know without Aspergers do. Trust me, the withering looks you get that make it plain that you are considered to be wasting someone’s time are not fun.

Of course, being literal minded has its funny side as well. One particular incident pre diagnosis sticks in my mind (you see, there goes the non literal saying!)  As a child, I was a frustratingly slow dresser, often delaying everyone else in the family when it came to being ready to go to school. On one occasion, I was standing outside my bedroom door half dressed. It was time to be leaving for school so my mother said, “Brush your teeth now and get dressed in the car!” I willingly obeyed what she had literally said. She had not said “Finish getting dressed in the car”-she had said “get dressed in the car” so, without questioning it, which, in hindsight I should have done but I was only seven, I took all of my clothes off and went to brush my teeth. The next time my mum came to check on my progress, I was standing with no clothes on ready to go and get dressed in the car. Of course, she had no idea what my thought process was at that point and got hugely frustrated with me. I remember thinking that it was very unfair that I had been told off when all I had done was follow the orders I had been given. Looking back at it now, it does make me and my mum laugh and I’m sure that it will be family legend for a long time but, at the time, I could not understand why obeying orders got me into trouble. These days, I am not so overly literal and would know to ask for clarification on what was actually expected of me but, at seven, I didn’t even know I had Aspergers let alone how to deal with the symptoms of it. That level of insight comes after years of living with a condition that gives you a totally different outlook on the world.

Please, if you know someone who takes phrases literally, don’t mock or belittle them and try not to get frustrated with them. To admit that the instruction they are being given is not specific enough for them to follow, knowing the reaction that may await them, takes courage. Would you rather they ask and complete the task to an acceptable level or that they don’t ask  and thus fail the task? A little bit of patience and understanding goes a long way.

I will not be writing on this blog until next Friday so Merry Christmas everybody. I hope your festive day is filled with fun and joy.

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