Literal thinking

Some Aspies and autistics tend to interpret things literally, reply to rhetorical questions and may have difficulties understanding figures of speech, idioms, allegories, irony etc.

“I interpret meaning literally. If I ask a group of people, ‘Hey, are you all interested in talking about dimorphism in cats?’ and someone answers, ‘Uh, maybe later Tom,’ I take it to mean, ‘Yes we do, in a half hour or so,’ not ‘What are you? Some kind of geek? No way!’”

– Tom, Aspie from USA

“I have more difficulty understanding time perspectives. If mom asks: ’Can you help me unload the dishwasher later?’ I never understand what she means by ‘later’. It can mean in 5 minutes, half an hour, 2 hours, tomorrow… So I say ‘yes’ and keep doing what I’m doing while waiting for her to tell me WHEN I am to help her. I’ve tried explaining to her that she has to say exactly when she wants me to do something as the word ‘later’ has no real meaning to me.”

– ‘DarknessDescends’, female Aspie from Sweden

Some reply to ‘stupid’ questions with a stupid answer just for fun, others really don’t get it. However, although some of us may have had this tendency as small children and may still reply to the odd rhetorical question, I’d say that most Aspies eventually learn idioms & figures of speech just like everyone else, even if occasional misunderstandings may still occur.

“I think I understood quite early that this type of questions expressed a wish rather than just what was in the words themselves.”

‘Salkin’, Aspie from Sweden

“- Can open the window?

– Of course!

People around me have to be more specific than that if they wish me to execute this ability in the moment…”

– ‘missbutterfly’, Aspie from Sweden

“Boss: There is a crate of goods over there.
Me: (thinking, yes I can see that?)

Boss meant to unpacke it and put the goods on the shelves in the store.”

– MsTibbs, Aspie from Sweden

“I never had probems with ‘Can you open the window?’ But I can miss more subtle hints like ‘Oh the garbage bag is really full’ – meant as an exhortation to take it out and put in a new. Among other things because I can throw such comments around without meaning anything but surprise that the garbage bag filled up so quickly this time. ”

– ‘alfapetsmamma’, Aspie from Sweden

Also, many Aspies have a very keen appreciation of irony – at least when it’s not directed at ourselves…

Some on the the autistic spectrum may have real cases of Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder.



  1. Ing said,

    OK, enough of this nonsense-spamming, ianpoolton. I’m deleting all your comments.

  2. Ing said,

    I’ve changed settings now so that comments have to be approved, so bye bye to your trolling gibberish-posts.

  3. ianpoolton said,

    sorry i was funny before.apologies.i have ulcerative colitis.autism is the cause.i got ulcerative colitis at 17(im 45 now)and dont know when autism began sometime before.its gotten me into some very stressfull situations and i look back on my life with some regret.symptoms are breathing out one nostril,food getting stuck in throat,bad temper with me and gave me mental health problems but i dont take the having to use lots of nasal sprays and can suck up water with my nose now.bad diets the one ear closed up 6months ago and fluid leaked out(aspergillosis of the sinuses)ive only ever been diagnosed as having ulcerative colitis

  4. Alex P. Adieu said,

    I know this is an old blog but I have a question that I can’t seem to find an answer to. It has been suspected by myself, a therapist (who isn’t qualified to diagnose Aspergers or Autism), a friend whose brother is an Aspie, and a former manager from a past job who has a son who is an Aspie that I am an Aspie. I have went back through my life and it seems to fit. Had social problems my whole life and now at 35, I do a lot better but still come across often as being weird. I obsess on special interests and fight the urge to run every conversation with everyone I meet about that special interest as I logically am aware that they don’t care, but emotionally it makes no sense why they wouldn’t. In my gut it feels like everyone actually cares about my special interest even if they don’t know it yet. I hate dealing with this and I want it to go away, or at least I make it to where it never happens again even if it always happens inside of me. Anyway, my question concerns literal thinking. Most jokes I get, never got “preacher jokes”, but dirty ones I understand. I understand stand up like Bob Saget, but Saturday Night Live, just not funny to me (unless it was Adam Sandler). I am also in AA. I get so bent out of shape when someone contradicts what is written in the book. I logically know what they are saying is bullshit, yet no matter how much I know it, my knee jerk reaction is to do as I am told as what they say must be infallible truth. The only thing I can do is to do the opposite to prove that person to have lied to me. I take it so literally and if I don’t go through the process of debunking ALL of it with what I know to work in the literature from experience (and because I went through the same process of debunking what was in the literature), I get pulled in all kinds of crazy directions whether I like it or not. Same on a job, same when I bothered with religion. Figures of speech don’t bother me as long as I understand their meaning, then I use them. But is what I mentioned above, someone claims this that or the other about themselves and I have huge difficulty not believing they are what they say they are, unless there is enough evidence to prove them to be a nobody or arrogant blowhard, is it literal thinking? Even with enough evidence I have difficulty letting it go emotionally. When I am told to do something and people pussy foot willy nilly around the task (unless I have experience) with their annoying fuzzy logic (drives me bonkers), I need lots of details or tasks are hard to complete. At times my common sense seems flawless, at other times it seems nonexistent. I will see a shrink eventually to ask these questions, but I am obsessed with this and I want to know. If you have some insight please answer.

    • mike said,

      About a year ago I became very suspicious that something around me wasn’t right. People’s patterns and nuances were different around me than they were around others, and their “responses” to various stimuli were some-how “off.” It eventually hit me that I have aspergers – I became “self-aware.” Since realizing this, I’ve been doing as you’re doing now (wondering why there were all these “discrepancies” between myself and others). This may sound hard to believe and very condescending, but you perceive reality differently. You have what is referred to as an impaired theory of mind. In essence, there are variables present in social interactions and your surrounding that register for other people but not for you. Because you are operating on a “different” set of variables, your conclusions are going to be “different.” This process occurs at the subconscious level.

  5. Alex P. Adieu said,

    That therapist btw who isn’t qualified to diagnose Aspergers has dealt with a lot of Aspie children. Forgot to mention that.

  6. teagi said,

    A boss that says ”there is a crate of goods over there” is an incredibly bad boss. A boss should be clear to all people – autistic or not. It’s also not a polite way of saying this. I could imagine a neurotypical being confused by this one and asking ‘should I unpack?’ or smth.

    As well as: ‘Oh the garbage bag is really full’, what’s that for impolite way of hinting that someone else should clean it. Especially men don’t get this. It’s impolite as well. If I want my bf to do smth, I say: ”Could you clean the garbage bag (every evening)?” And maybe say: ”Then I will clean the litterbox.” so it’s equal. Communication. COMMUNICATION!! If I want him to stop forgetting to clean it, I will repeat it every time until he understands the routine. This will sink in eventually.

    Also, the first one pisses me off. ”What are you? Some kind of geek? No way!” Not everyone thinks that when they say ”Maybe later, Tom.” Maybe he/she thinks: ”Hm, Tom is a bit odd, but it’s okay, I just don’t want to talk about dimorphism in cats. ^_^” There are kind and open-minded people too!

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