#26 Taking Things Literally

Written by SAPL on November 2nd, 2008 in Communication.

Once upon a time there was a young college Asperger student working as an assistant to a professor who was a very busy and prolific researcher. The student liked the job-good pay, close to home and school, and was in the area of interest the student wanted to go into after graduation.

But the biggest bonus of all was that the duties involved following lots of “to do” lists, which tickled the student pick. Much pleasure was derived from completing the lists, crossing items off the list, and making sub lists of things on previous lists that weren’t complete and needed to be added to the current one.

One day the student was going through the list and found a personal favor the professor was requesting. In addition to photocopying handouts, doing literature searches, the student was instructed to find a “female doctor.” Since there were no specifics, the student figured the professor needed all the options possible and spent the entire afternoon thumbing through the yellow pages, writing down the names of every female M.D. or D.O. with a name from Alice to Alejandra.

After turning in the list, the student was shocked and a little embarrassed to discover the assignment had been completed incorrectly. The professor didn’t care if her doctor was named Janet or John. She just needed a doctor for the…female region.

Like the student and Cameron, the nine millimeter calling robot, Asperger people take things very literally. Don’t bother communicating with them using hints, nuances, implications, euphemisms, or slang because they will probably not get it and become quite frustrated. This in turn can cause problems for everyone involved, including you.

When you tell the Asperger person you’ll call them back at 8:00 pm, you better be sure your clocks are in synchronicity with theirs. A callback that occurs later than 8:00:09 pm warrants serious explaining and “my clock is a minute or two slow,” won’t cut it.

An even better way to screw yourself over with the literal Aspie is to suggest something negative about them for not getting the hidden meaning by mentioning that it’s “common sense,” or “not literally, of course,” or even making threats you really don’t plan on following through with. The word “lawsuit” dropped casually over the phone may send 3 xs as lawsuits your way once the Asperger person finds “loopholes,” in your threat and takes action on it-even if you never intended to file anything and are just trying to figure a way to make him change his pain in the butt ways.

The Asperger person may see these confusing and ego bruised moments as opportunities to put you at the end of their short tempered correction stick: “She is a PhD. Why isn’t she using the term “gynecologist?” You will be reminded of what is proper and what is not proper, how you are stupid for not being proper, and they will call upon the proper authority resource to convince them everything is okay. (The job description said “research assistant,” not “personal assistant.” Shouldn’t be bringing up medical conditions in a workplace setting anyway. I so didn’t need to know that.)

Photo: jslander on Flickr

9 Responses to “#26 Taking Things Literally”

  1. Phil Says:

    Read “Amelia Bedelia” books. The namesake is a maid who takes every figure of speech literally and does bizarre, funny things as a result. They’re short stories, which is great, because novels bore me. They are intended to be children’s books, but they’re still funny!

  2. Vic Says:

    “tickled the student pick.” Isn’t the work pink.

    See Number 20.

  3. James Says:

    “3 xs as lawsuits”

    Was this supposed to be “three times as many lawsuits”?

    Were errors left in this article deliberately for humour? 🙂

  4. Quid Says:

    “Isn’t the work pink.” Isn’t the word word, and shouldn’t that end with a question mark?

    See Number 20.


  5. aspierthanthou Says:

    ” ‘tickled the student pick.’ Isn’t the work pink.”

    Isn’t the word…”word?” ; )

    Also, I got lost in the middle of the second to last paragraph of the article:

    “The word ‘lawsuit’ dropped casually over the phone may send 3 xs as lawsuits your way…”

    (“3 xs as lawsuits?”)

  6. MikeyG Says:

    Sometimes people interpret things differently. I fail to see how this is exclusive to people with aspergers lol

  7. SMILES Says:

    The normal guys I dated get hints, implications, and do not take language literally, and they can read social cues but the Aspergers guy I dated seemed so different to me it was hard to get used to the way he thinks and responds in communication and in social situations I noticed it would make me tense or uneasy sometimes I wondered if I was feeling his nervousness and unfortunately it was too hard for me to do this long terms.

  8. Revd Svend la Rose Says:

    This article seems to assume that the Asperger’s person has not been taught such things as decision rules, accuracy tolerances and interpretation of politeness strategies. I found a course in “Language and Power” to be infinitely helpful in my social life. I also found two years of parliamentary debate to significantly alter my “rigidness” by teaching me that things are true on balance, or presumptively or according to a certain decision rule or within a certain tolerance.

  9. fake disorder Says:

    first of all, asperger’s is fake. second of all why should anyone have to explain why they called someone two minutes late? “asperger’s” people should not expect anyone to accept unreasonable strictures.

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