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My autistic daughter’s humor has evolved over the years, confirming for me that humor has a developmental component. Just like all things developmental, it’s taken a bit longer to develop.
Humor and Development
I’m a firm believer in emphasizing the “delay” part of “developmental delay,” quick to forget the typical timeline. I mean, when your plane is delayed does that mean you’ll never make it home? Of course not! It’s just going to take you longer to get there. We see developmental improvements every day, every week, every year. Humor is no different.
Humor can be simple (someone slips on a banana peel) or it can be complex (sarcasm). Depending on level of understanding, some of those nuances can be difficult to understand.
ASD and Social Communication
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can make social communication and interactions difficult. Humor requires a basic understanding of a shared experience with another person. It also requires some imagination and ability to understand perspective.
Social communication and understanding is so important to humor! For example, if I say it’s “raining cats and dogs,” it’s quite likely my daughter will go to the window and tell me that I’m wrong, or profess that I’m being silly because she is quite literal. In fact, Elena Hoicka from the University of Sheffield says that humor development is underpinned by children’s pragmatic abilities.
Admittedly, we are a silly family, and she has always participated in that – in her own way. My favorite story is the one I tell in a previous post: Chicken with a Hat: Teaching Humor on the Autism Spectrum. The punchline to E-V-E-R-Y joke for years, was an enthusiastic “chicken with a hat!” followed by belly-shaking laughter.
Fast-forward to today, and we’ve seen huge developmental improvements, including evolving humor. In fact, much to my daughter’s delight, we were chatting with neighbors outside when she decided it was time to tell a joke. This wasn’t the same tired group (all of us) that she has been stuck with since this pandemic began – this was a fresh audience! I held my breath for a moment, not sure of what was about to come next and prepared for a ‘chicken with a hat’ punchline. To my surprise, here’s what happened next:
“What do you call a cow with no legs?” she asked. We paused, looked at each other quizzically, and said “Tell us!”
“Ground beef, of course!” she said. Oh, how we laughed! She went on to assert that she was a great joke teller. And, I couldn’t agree more.
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