The Literal Mind of Autism

Unintentional Humor

Page 124 of "Unintentional Humor"

A common characteristic of those on the autism spectrum is the difficulty in grasping abstract concepts, meaning non-tangible ideas, objects or things are often difficult to understand. Thus, the majority of those with autism are concrete thinkers and tend to focus on the "here and now" and have difficulty in generalizations. Included in the concrete thought process is the propensity to take words or phrases literally. With the English language full of slangs, puns and paradoxes, this can pose a daunting challenge for the autistic mind.

While at the Autism Society of America’s 42nd annual conference in Orlando several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Gund Anderson, a mother of a young man with autism who decided to tackle this topic in a humorous and entertaining book entitled, "Unintentional Humor: Celebrating the Literal Mind of Autism." Anderson’s work is a 160-page illustrative account of the often misunderstood phrases that her son Brent encountered while growing up. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Brent was the co-author and inspiration for the book, which Anderson says was twenty years in the making.

Phrases such as "frog in my throat," "your in the dog house" and "give me a ring" took on an entirely different meaning
for Brent, who had the habit of understanding phrases and statements quite literally. Working alongside an artist, Brent ensured that each illustrative account was captured exactly as he envisioned it in his mind at the time. Linda also shares stories alongside many of the pictures, offering lighthearted accounts that occurred over the years with her son, as well as others.

I immediately related with this book, as my nine-year-old used to have the habit of taking phrases literally as well. One that clearly stands out is when I was sick a few years ago with a stomach virus and announced that I had a "stomach bug." My son looked visibly worried, presumably envisioning
an alien-like creature crawling around my large intestine.

"Unintentional Humor" explores these common misunderstandings, which many parents of verbal children with autism will also relate to.

Ultimately, when it comes to this topic, the irony is that neurotypicals are actually the ones who are “different” and the ones with autism are the "normal" ones. Over the many years, we have managed to alter and twist the English language nearly beyond recognition, all-the-while our children are only trying to understand phrases exactly as they are stated, and in many cases, originally intended.

For more info on Anderson’s book, you can visit A portion of the book proceeds and product sales will be donated to autism organizations around the country.