Chicken with a Hat: Teaching Humor to Kids on the Spectrum

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Photo credit: http://deskbg.com/view/18547/

Natalie doesn’t always understand humor or everyday-isms; she is very literal.  When I said something about it “raining cats and dogs” she enthusiastically ran to the window to check it out, and was sorely disappointed.  It’s hard to explain things that we just inherently know, and it’s exhausting to do it continuously.

Linda Anderson, author of Unintentional Humor believes that humor actually has developmental stages, and discusses how humor can be challenging for those with autism.

Our family is quick with witty or sarcastic responses, so Natalie is surrounded by humor, although most often her response is “What do you mean?”   She prefers slap-stick comedy, and she will hysterically laugh at the absurd.  My mom makes up silly songs about anything and everything – and not only will she listen intently, there’s no one who can make her laugh harder.

Here are some ways to help develop humor:

  • Buy an age appropriate joke book.  Knock-knock jokes are great, because they follow the same pattern and use the learned response of  “Who’s there?”
  • Practice joke telling.  Once Natalie learned three jokes, she sat us all down to do a comedy show.  I won’t say she got it all right, but it helped her understand timing, and different ways of responding such as laughter, or saying something like “That’s a good one!”
  • Don’t underestimate social stories.  Sarcasm can be hard to explain.  Use a social story to help.
  • Laughter.  Practice and teach how and when to laugh:  how long, how loud, and when enough is enough.
  • Talk about appropriate settings.  It’s important to teach when it’s fun to tell jokes- during lunch with friends, not in the middle of church or a math lesson at school.
  • Tell jokes and/or point out other humor, and why it is funny.
  • Use (Kids) You Tube.  There are tons of channels with kids who tell jokes or do funny challenges (like the bamboozled craze)  Nats love to watch those, and it helps her see what’s funny and how kids her age interact.  It also gives her a chance to stop the video and ask a question about a social situation or joke.

It’s taken Natalie some time to find her sense of humor; some days she gets it right, and other days not so much.

She loves to tell jokes, specifically of the ‘knock-knock’ variety, and nearly all of them end with the same punchline:  “Chicken with a hat on!” followed by roaring, belly-shaking laughter.

I used to try and correct her, to explain why chickens with hats aren’t funny (which strangely is very hard to verbalize) however, the honesty and simplicity of her laughter is contagious, and we now find ourselves laughing right along with her.  Besides, a chicken with  a hat is rather absurd, isn’t it?

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