Why is that lady soo nervous? #2

You came back hey? Great!

I’m talking a bit about some of my communication challenges from being on the Autism Spectrum.

To recap, the things I’ll write about this week are:

Sometimes I get quite nervous, and after the following posts you might understand why. *grins*

This post is about Taking Words Literally.

A challenge in communication for us on the spectrum, is being able to recognise contexts within communication.

You know when you tell a story, about this idiot who, I don’t know – cut you off, drunk one of your beers, or sat in the wrong seat? There may be someone who’s like – are you sure they meant to be rude?

You’re like – yeah, I can read between the lines!

When you’re talking to me, I’m literally choosing the most accurate words to describe something.
When I do something, there may be inattention and ignorance, but (hopefully) not malice.

You can read examples of why people can think of us as cold and dismissive here.

There are no hidden messages. Well, nowadays I’m dropping hints and double meanings into conversations more. I’m also recognising context-based expectations. But for the most part, there are no hidden messages.


Have you ever had a partner break up with you and its like ‘I thought we were fine. I had no idea he didn’t want me around. I mean – we just had a nice dinner last week! It came totally out of the blue.’

For some people on the spectrum – this experience of not understanding why someone has ‘turned’ can happen to us a lot.

For myself it would be that I was listening to your words, not the context or with a grain of irony in which something was spoken. Unlike some of us, I do recognise sarcasm verbally, it being the main currency of my humour growing up.

The Autism Spectrum is a key word here. Depending on our circumstances, we have differences in our abilities and what we have learnt.

For myself, one example of Taking Things Literally is from share-house living.

A friend was staying with us for a bit, and I was leaving the key hidden for her.

I came home from work one day and it wasn’t there. I called her but she didn’t have it. That day she’d found somewhere else to live, and left it in our usual spot.
I knocked and knocked and finally my flatmate let me in. I was like – what happened to the key? He said ‘I thought it was a spare key’. I couldn’t understand how he’d think that, but took him at his word.

Off I go to make dinner and my food in the cupboard was gone. Into a bin as it turns out. I was like – why did you put my stuff there? He said ‘I was cleaning out old food’. I was not getting the hint.

Next day off to work. When I come home the stuff from my bedroom was on the veranda. I asked him about it and he said he wanted to sweep the floor.  So I moved most of the stuff back in my room. I was like – gee he didn’t do a good job of sweeping!

I thought it was weird, but still wasn’t getting the hint.

In the end I swept the room, went to sleep and went off to work the next day.

Just another work-day.

That night when I came home, the key was gone again but this time when I knocked he didn’t open it. I could hear him and a mate laughing. At first I thought they couldn’t hear me, so I kept knocking and banging on the door – until they turned the music up. That’s when I knew I’d been locked out. On purpose.

I ended up calling my sister and moved in with her.

Now the Neurotypicals among you – the people who can read between the lines – would have recognised a long time before the key incident that he wanted me out. But here I am, an Aspy, taking words literally. Not hearing contexts.

Taking something literally is something I have to look out for.
Taking something literally is something I have to look out for.

My key was missing – he thought it was a spare.
My food was gone – he was cleaning out old food.
My room was emptied – he needed to sweep.
I was locked out – he just didn’t hear me.

Now how old do you think I was? I was 18 years old.

Contexts, especially when we haven’t learned them – are hidden from us. We tend to take words literally.

Thankfully now that I know I tend to do this, I can recognise it and try to adjust my thinking to be context based, and in the spirit of what the speaker intends.

If i’m nervous I may be unsure if you mean what you say, or if there is some hidden context I am not getting.

If you notice me doing taking things literally, please point it out. I appreciate the heads up.

How would you like to read more? If you’re still with me, Why is that lady soo nervous #3 is on ‘Knowing My Place or Role’. 


 Further Reading

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These can be pre-ordered on Kindle. Release date: April 1st 2017
Successful to Burnt Out: Experiences of Women on the Autism Spectrum 

Australian Kindle store

US Kindle Store

Inaccessible: Poetry about Inaccessible Things.

Australian Kindle Store

US Kindle Store