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Literal Language in Autistic Children & Flexible Thinking

Updated: Jul 7, 2023


Literal communication- inferences and idioms

It’s known that children with autism may have difficulty with language and communication. High-functioning autistic children may also have difficulty understanding nonliteral language and can be unable to understand the shifting meaning of words in changing situations. They are concrete thinkers or also known as rigid thinkers who tend to focus on the “here and now” and having and doing things their way!. This thinking pattern can lead to communication challenges, social challenges, stress, and problem behaviors.

In daily social contexts, people commonly use idioms as part of their communication and social interactions. Idioms are multi-word expressions with a non-literal meaning, which can only be derived by using contextual information. Idiom comprehension can be a problematic area for some children in the spectrum because of the inherent nonliteral meaning of idioms. Similarly, deriving the meaning of day-to-day communication, considering the social context can be challenging as well.

As part of my sessions with autistic and neurotypical children who appear to be rigid thinkers, idioms tend to come up. Teaching idioms can help children to understand the non-literal aspect of language and improve their communication and social skills. Teaching them to use contextual information for making quick and smart guesses instead of absolute meanings despite the context is very helpful. Idioms are one step towards teaching children to be more flexible, think outside the box, and improve their social and communication skills.

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