Evolving Humor and Autism

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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.

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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.

Adorable? Yes. But are chickens in hats funny?

Telling jokes

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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  1. At our IEP meeting this year a new goal was no set to be addressed. The speech therapist commented that if she were to tell Declan it was raining cats and dogs he would do the same thing as your daughter – and the therapist is right! He totally would. Good joke by your daughter too! That is a good one!

    • I never realized how many idioms I used until my kiddo came along. I also never realized how hard they are to actually break down and explain! Now I want to Google where that phrase came from LOL! I mean, honestly, it’s so silly — raining cats and dogs! My husband likes to tease me when I see a hard rain and say, “It’s really coming down!” to which he replies, “Well, I’ve never seen it go up!” Yep, I am surrounded by comedians over here…

  2. Ben is fond of slapstick. My daughters and I are more of the sarcastic, quick quip type. You’re so right about humor and delays. And it IS difficult to explain why things are funny, and why things are NOT funny. Slapstick might be funny in a movie, but not so funny in real life. Disney isn’t even “safe”.

    Ben does a lot of scripting, and every once in a while he uses the perfect script and we’re left with dropped jaws wondering…

    Ground Beef of course😂😂😂

    • Yes!! It is so hard sometimes to explain a phrase — a common phrase that you just know the meaning of because it’s so, well… common. It trips me up everytime. They say that English is one of the hardest languages to learn, and when you have to actually break it down and explain it — I agree! And, she loves slapstick humor — my mom is the queen of making her laugh!!

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