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Literally Speaking

Updated on November 16, 2014

Literally Speaking

Many children with various learning disabilities, such as APDD Atypical Pervasive Developmental Disorder and High Functioning Autism, literally take everything literally.  When others around them are able to decipher a joke or common phrase, these children become confused, perplexed and frustrated.

When my son was around aged 7, he got very upset while listening to the radio.  He darted out the front door and up to the end of the street.  He stopped at the corner and looked one direction and the next.  I had no idea what he was doing or whatever possessed him to act in such a manner.    He ran back to the house and was obviously quite upset.  He went over to the radio and started to yell at it. 

He yelled “He lied. He lied.”

 He was referring to the radio announcer.  Of course I asked him what he was talking about and this was his reply.

“The man on the radio said Halloween is just around the corner.   Well I ran up and looked around the corner and Halloween wasn’t there. “

I realized he had taken the phrase literally.  After calming him down, I sat down with him and tried to explain what the announcer meant. 

This may sound funny to some, but for many children with learning difficulties, it is a reality, a part of their everyday life.  Expressions must be explained to them and taught to them.  Put yourself in their shoes (oops another figure of speech) and imagine yourself not understanding that the man meant Halloween would soon be here.  This happens time and time again with children ending up anxious, angry and embarrassed by their lack of understanding phrases and sayings.

Here are a few examples of spoken word that he could not comprehend until taught or shown.

-          Go fly a kite.

-          Pull up your socks.

-          Keep an eye on your sister (to that one he responded that he wasn’t able to do that, it was impossible for him to take his eye out and put it on his sister.)  Think about it that is the way we say it and that is the way they hear it, and that is the way they comprehend it.

It reminds me, in a way, of learning a foreign language and how complex and difficult that is.   There are always phrases and grammar that is frustrating and the only way you can learn what it means is to just learn what it means.  Keep this in mind when dealing with children who constantly struggle with this. 

I am reminded of one New Years Eve.  I told my son that we would have a toast at midnight.  He was happy to be able to stay up that late and when midnight came and I went to make a toast with our glasses, he looked stunned.  He said “I thought we were going to have toast at midnight”.  He was disappointed as he had been looking forward to that. 

Take a moment to pause and think what it would be like to have these issues.  It’s not a laughing matter but rather a part of their day to day lives. 

Understanding is the beginning to accepting.  Accepting is the beginning to recognizing.  Recognizing leads to compassion and this leads to helping the child involved. 

Be proactive.  Explain things as they come up along the way.   Be patient, be fair, and be kind. 

One disapproving look can damage a child for a long time, whereas a genuine smile can make their day.  Enjoy the moment.  Enjoy your child – literally speaking. 




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    • westernangel profile image

      westernangel 8 years ago from Canada

      TMinut - Thanks for stopping by and commenting. How old is your son? I know it's very difficult. My son that I was referring to in the article is now almost 30. We have foster children and some of them have the same difficulties. Keep doing what you are doing and encouraging him.

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      TMinut 8 years ago

      Much of that happens normally when kids are little and it's so funny - cute and part of what is enjoyable about little ones. The problem is it isn't so funny when they're older and still don't get it. I'm still trying to find out how to help my son, just tonight he told me he'd happily give away half of his math and science abilities and scores if he could "just be normal in those other things" (language and social skills). He's almost always confused, barely a conversation happens where he doesn't take something wrong. He'd prefer a world where people used calculators instead of cell phones and never had to meet face to face.