Why do people and writers use figurative language? Well, it’s mainly to add color to what they write or speak. There are several types of it and here are a few.
Similes are comparisons between two unlike objects using like or as (example: eating like a horse). Metaphors are just comparisons between them not using like or as (example: mounds of homework are heavy book bags children need to carry on). Personifications are human actions and emotions given to nonliving beings (example: a stream of soda running down my throat).
The king of this genre of literary devices is the idiom. It’s an expression not to be taken literally. My favorite example of that is “Let’s do Disney,” which means going on a Disney cruise or a Disney park.
If you want many autistic children decide whether or not they have to go to the restroom, just ask if they would go to see a man about his horse and they won’t understand you.
A lot of children on the autism spectrum have a hard time figuring out what people are actually saying at certain circumstances. If they are having a conversation with at least, say, two idioms, metaphors, personifications, or a combination, it’s not pretty understandable to them. It’s a second language like Tagalog or Spanish, but in plain English that most everyone speaks.
A good example of a situation in which that language is involved is the “what exit are you” joke. (I treat this as an idiom.) It is like nails on a chalkboard to some New Jerseyans from all walks of life because some of the population neither lives at most 3-5 miles or so from the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike.
Well, I dare somebody ignorant to ask a New Jerseyan who has autism and thinks literally, let alone a verbal kid, that joke. He might imagine being an exit sign, with the interchange with ramps behind him – literally.
Other situations that involve figurative language is profanity, and they can add more insult to injury (make the situation worse) if someone on the spectrum younger than 12 knows what those words mean, providing she reads a dictionary filled with bad words.
A good example would be the word “bullpoop” (I’m using the cleaner version of the more vulgar original word here.), which is a compound word (using two or more words to create one word). If an autistic child knows the meaning of the second word and overhears someone’s mother ranting on her son’s horrendous report card being a load of bullpoop, he might imagine a bull pooping.
So how can autistic children interpret what people are saying that is not intended to be taken literally? The best way is to start teaching it early. As an autistic myself, I did worksheets on idioms and I started to get the hang of interpreting what people are saying the right way. I suggest that you dole out worksheets on all aspects of the language.
Also, please watch what you say. Just tell your autistic child to wait for Mommy because she has to go to the bathroom instead of telling him that you need to see a man about his horse. Refrain from using profanity, as he might not understand what you are saying. Do the same with your family in the house, when your child is around.
Because many children with autism think in literal terms, we need to teach them what they need to interpret figures of speech in real life. It’s as simple as teaching the aspects of it and watching your mouth.