Healthy Living

Humor and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Humor and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Our Autism Community is very important to us. At FindaTopDoc, we create and share articles and slideshows about autism, reporting on the latest information, news, breakthroughs and observations that we believe our autism community is seeking. In doing our research, we come across remarkable professionals in the field that provide such wisdom, we are compelled to share it

Connie Hammer is an Author & Parenting Coach. Her book is called Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience. She excels in her field; she is wise, worldly, kind, and compassionate. And that’s why we appreciate being able to share her eye-opening work with our readers.

Humor and the ASD brain

Telling a joke is an art, and not all of us are good at it. You can hear the deafening silence when a joke lands a dud. We might say something like, “Wow, that joke went over like a lead balloon!” But, describing a lead balloon to a child with autism may be challenging because taking things literally is a trait many children on the spectrum seem to have. They might not get the meaning of the joke and in most cases won’t get the idiom, the lead balloon, to describe it. 

Understanding jokes and references requires a person to take in the literal meaning of something, process it, apply subtleties, irony, or social cues to “get” the joke. Children with autism can get stuck here. It is difficult for them to see how the intent of a statement can differ from what is actually being said.

Studies show that two levels of communication are involved in understanding humor, and these come from two different areas in the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain helps a person understand the literal meaning of a joke or idiom. The right side of the brain, the frontal lobe in particular, is responsible for interpreting context and double meanings.

For children with ASD, this part of their brain doesn’t typically make the necessary connections to understand and the joke. It gets lost in translation.

When jokes and humor become more complex, it requires understanding context, metaphors, and the different meanings or implications of words. Anything ambiguous, such as an idiom or hyperbole, often leaves a child with ASD scratching their head in confusion or accepting the statement as fact.

Connie provides some classic examples of phrases that get lost in translation. They include:

  • Wearing your heart on your sleeve
  • A blessing in disguise
  • Bite your tongue
  • Spitting image
  • A piece of cake
  • Pull the plug
  • An arm and a leg

But don’t forget just how important humor is to your child’s development despite the challenges of “getting the joke.” Being able to tell jokes and laugh with others helps children interact socially and connect with other people.

How can you help trigger and create the pathways necessary to support your child’s sense of humor?

According to Connie, you can help expand your child’s sense of humor and understanding of jokes and idioms by trying the following 5 strategies.

  1. Train your child to seek clarifying information when they are confused. The trick is to get them to realize when something doesn’t make sense. Rather than accepting the information as fact, teach them to take it to the next step - ask an adult to explain.
  2. Focus on visual humor when possible. If your child is a visual learner, sticking with slapstick comedy, cartoons and comic books that are read aloud while your child follows the pictures is a good place to start before proceeding to the telling of jokes and more abstract humor.
  3. Intentionally teach idioms. Gradually expose your child to idioms and explain their meaning. Make it a point to use them or instruct your child directly by using homemade flashcards. This will help the neurons in their brains to make new connections that will lead them to develop a better understanding.
  4. Teach your child one or two jokes he or she can share socially. Simple knock-knock jokes are a good place to start. After a while, your child will start creating his own jokes but will require guidance to make sure the punchlines are headed in the right direction. The goal is to ensure that his schoolmates will laugh with him and not at him.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. Never think this task is complete. As your child gains more experience in stretching their brain to create new neural pathways, you can raise your efforts to a more sophisticated use of humor. As your child matures, their understanding will get easier but taking the steps above will give them a wonderful head start.

And never forget that a family that laughs together will have less stress and will grow together in amazing ways. For more information, see FindaTopDoc’s medical library on autism in addition to our other articles about autism.

You can get more wisdom directly from Connie right here on her website.

Connie’s book is available here.