Common Metaphors and Phrases that May Confuse People with Autism

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In general, people on the autism spectrum tend to be very literal. They often struggle to understand things like sarcasm, subtext, and commonly used figures of speech. This is one of the major reasons many people with autism find it difficult to carry on a conversation or make friends with others.

For example, if you say, “It’s raining cats and dogs out there,” to a child on the spectrum, they’ll probably think you mean puppies and kitties are falling out of the sky. Very confusing (not to mention upsetting if they love animals!).

Photo: YouTube/Anja Melissa

For that reason, it can be helpful for people on the spectrum if you speak literally to them and ensure your words match what you mean. But when you’re used to speaking in a certain way, it can sometimes be hard to recognize which phrases could potentially be confusing. You have the more obvious ones, like “raining cats and dogs,” but what are some others we might say without really thinking them through?

There are thousands of metaphorical or otherwise abstract phrases out there that we use on a daily basis, so taking the time to remove them from our speech and writing can be a daunting task.

In this video, a young woman with Asperger’s explains some of the (less obvious) phrases that she has misinterpreted. It’s really helpful and also serves as a good reminder: if you feel like someone with autism is back-sassing you, that may not actually be the case. Look back at what you said to them and ask yourself: “Does this have a different meaning when it’s heard literally?” If so, you probably just confused them, and the solution to the problem is probably a simple one: just rephrase what you said.

Watch the video to learn more!

People on the spectrum: what phrases confuse you? Let us know in the comments!

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.
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