Literally, directions don’t do diddly

signs about beaches.
Photo by Pixabay on
Ways autistic traits impact my daily life #6

A pretty common trait among autistic people is understanding phrases at literal, face value. For example: “laughing my head off” or “stick in the mud.”

Autistic people also tend to follow directions super literally, so “could you put the clean towels away in the bathroom?” results in a pile of towels on the bathroom floor, instead of in the cupboard, like the direction-giver implied but didn’t directly say.

Fun science-y fact: the reason for literal interpretations has to do with what I wrote about last week–seeing the little details before the whole picture. Individual pieces of the world come first, so when someone talks, the individual words and their literal definitions make sense first, not the hidden, whole meaning of what the speaker intended.

I personally do understand what someone means when they say “I’m laughing my head off.” I write a lot of metaphorical, figurative stuff, I sure hope I don’t take it all literally.

But…I do have a tendency to misunderstand someone’s directions. Super embarrassing story: one time a teacher asked me to go to the school library and pick up copies for the day’s assignments. You know, the stacks of hundreds of papers for 7 class periods of chemistry and biology homework?

Well. I took the instructions literally, found the copy room in the library, and grabbed the day’s assignment papers for my class period. As in, only my class period. A small little stack. But, that was the day’s assignments, so, mission accomplished.

Looking back that makes no sense, why didn’t I just grab the foot-tall stack of different colored copies beside the sticky note with my teacher’s name, instead of the top layer of like 50 pages? But at the time, I was literally just doing what my teacher said, grabbing the copies for today’s assignment. Those other things weren’t for today’s assignment, so obviously I didn’t grab them.

I was doing what I thought she asked me to do, instead of what might’ve made more logical sense.

And to this day I don’t know if that teacher thought I was a genius or an idiot, because I couldn’t do a simple thing like grab papers from the library, but I did get straight A’s in the class.

Moral: I’m not great with verbal directions, because I will probably take them literally, and experience high anxiety as I go to do whatever you asked, conflicted if you asked me to do thing A or thing B or if I should do thing C because that makes more sense to me but what if you actually meant to do a thing I haven’t even considered yet?

So there’s that embarrassing story. Hope you maybe laughed or cringed or learned something new?


If you liked this post, please consider buying me a pizza!

PS I really like people who laugh their heads off.

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