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  • The Neurodivergent Therapy Space

Autism and Literal Thinking

Autism is a neurological condition that affects how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. One common characteristic associated with autism is a tendency towards literal thinking or a preference for concrete and factual information.


Literal thinking in autism refers to taking statements or instructions at face value and interpreting them in a strict and exact manner, without understanding figurative language, implied meanings, or social nuances. Autistic people often struggle with understanding sarcasm, metaphors, idioms, and other forms of non-literal communication.


This literal thinking style can impact various aspects of a person's life. For example, autistic people may have difficulty with:


  1. Understanding humour: Jokes and sarcasm can be challenging for them to grasp since they rely on implied meanings and playfulness.

  2. Figuring out idioms and expressions: Common phrases like "it's raining cats and dogs" can be confusing when taken literally.

  3. Interpreting nonverbal communication: Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice may be challenging to understand since they primarily focus on the literal meaning of words.

  4. Detecting implied or indirect requests: They may struggle to pick up on subtle hints or requests that are not explicitly stated.

  5. Engaging in imaginative play: Pretend play and imaginative scenarios that involve abstract or symbolic thinking may be less appealing or difficult to comprehend.


It is important to note that not all autistic people think literally, as the autism spectrum is vast and diverse. Each person's thinking patterns and abilities can vary. Some individuals may have a strong preference for literal thinking, while others may have different abilities to understand figurative language or adapt to social communication.


Understanding and accommodating literal thinking can help individuals with autism effectively navigate social interactions and communication. Providing clear and concise instructions, using visual supports or concrete examples, and explaining figurative language explicitly can all contribute to improved communication and comprehension for autistic people.

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