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One of the things I discovered early on with my autistic daughter was a communication roadblock when I used phrases that we all say without thinking about them – because we inherently know what they mean. Yes, I’m talking about idioms: a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not understood from those of the individual words. Like the phrase getting a second wind – something I’m all too familiar with as it relates to my kids and our established bedtime.
Idioms and Figurative Language
They are ingrained in our everyday language. I often wonder if my kiddo’s communication delays were enhanced by my use of idioms. Now that she is a bit older and has verbal capabilities, she will flat out ask what something means. (Her self-advocacy impresses me all the time.) When she was small, I wonder how much I said that was confusing. She, at that time, was unable to express it or ask questions.
Impaired social communication and language skills are usually among the hallmark signs of autism spectrum disorder. That is certainly the case for my kiddo. She has difficulty with both spoken words as well as reading. (Now, if you read a book to her, she will understand and engage 100%.)
No Shit, Sherlock
So, a funny dinnertime story is at the crux of this post. Picture it: my husband and I are in the kitchen cleaning up, when he said something painfully obvious (I can’t even recall what now). And, me being me, (not realizing kiddo was right behind me) quipped back, “No shit, Sherlock!”
I barely got the words out of my mouth when the barrage of questions began coupled with what I call screw face:
What? No shit, Sherlock? What does that mean?
What’s a Sherlock?
Why would dad need a Sherlock?
Like a Sherlock [surelock/ziplock] bag?
I don’t get it!
Oops, I did it again.
At this moment it’s a combination of exasperation and amusement. Rather than give her the stink eye for saying ‘shit,’ I want to laugh out loud. I am also painfully aware that my words mean something, or in this case, don’t mean anything at all. Sigh.
So, if you’re like me (and speak without thinking), here are some common idioms and figurative language that could elicit a similar response:
- It’s raining cats and dogs
- Bad apple
- Bee in my bonnet
- I’ve got a short memory
- Actions speak louder than words
- Put your money where your mouth is
- Running against time (or the clock)
- Running against the wind
- I’m all ears
- Costs an arm and a leg
- That hits close to home
- Couch potato
- I have my heart set on…
- Time to hit the sack (or hay)
- Let the cat out of the bag
- Turn the (house, room) upside-down
- Get off my back
- Hold your horses
- Slow your Roll
- Cool as a cucumber
The list goes on and on. In fact, here’s a link to an extensive list. I decided to print it out and for one week, checked off any I said. I was super surprised at how often I use them.
My strategy continues: be more mindful of the words I use, but also teach as many of these common phrases as possible because she won’t always be in the controlled environment of our home. It’s a slow, steady process, but there are many that she’s learned over time.
Figurative language can be learned
Although research tells us that autistic individuals do have more difficulty understanding idioms, it also says that intervention and specific teaching does, indeed help.
In the end, the K.I.S.S. principle wins – keeping language simple will win the day (and avoid a no shit, Sherlock moment in your home).
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