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4 Tips For Helping a Child Who Takes Everything Literally


Lots of autistic people take things literally, here are 4 tips for helping a child who takes everything literally. Autistic people may have trouble with jokes, sarcasm, metaphors, and idioms, this tends to be because they are literal thinkers.

Literal thinkers tend to focus on the exact meaning of the words used. They find it difficult to see a less factual or more metaphoric meaning.

Everyone at some point in their life will take things literally. But for someone who is autistic, this could cause problems in day to day lives.

Here are 4 tips for helping a child who takes everything literally.

1. Try and speak to your child in a literal way but remember not to be patronising

I have 2 children that take things literally. So I have to really think before I ask them to do something.

Once I asked my daughter to “stick her rubbish in the bin” and 2 minutes later she was getting the glue stick out and sticking her rubbish in the bin. Whilst very funny at the time it taught me to think about how she is going to interpret what I am saying. Now I phase things differently, For example, “could you please put your rubbish in the bin”.

With my son, I would say things like “do you want to get a shower” and when he would reply “no” I thought he was being cheeky and answering back. Once I changed the way I worded these things with him it became much easier. I now say things like “okay 5 more minutes and you are getting a shower”.  He needs to know that’s what he is doing if he thinks it’s a choice he will answer honestly lol.

These two examples give my kids straight forward tasks that have an outcome, this lets them know exactly what is expected and leaves very little space for confusion.

2. Don’t avoid using sarcasm, jokes, idioms, and metaphors but do explain what they mean

My best advice here is to buy a joke book. Joke books can be so much fun and you can spend some time with your child looking at why something is funny. Once jokes start to make sense you can start making up your own!

This will allow them to relate to their peers and join in conversations. Even if they don’t quite get the jokes, if they can recognise that a joke is happening they can at least join in with the conversation and feel as though they are part of the group.

3. Practice idioms and metaphors with your child – make it fun

Idioms and metaphors can be mind-boggling. A saying that has no literal meaning, now that’s just crazy? Most of us just learn these as we grow. It’s part of our natural language development. I myself struggle with idioms and metaphors so we play a family game where we pick one and have to say what we think it means. This can be hilarious, but ultimately after we’ve all had a turn we learn what it really means. This is a great game for passing the time when travelling or filling time.

4. YouTube

If you want to learn anything in this day and age you go to YouTube. There are loads of videos on YouTube to help with literal thinking. Type in Idioms or Metaphors and you’ll get loads of videos for kids (and adults). It’s raining cats and dogs is another good search – but be careful searching kill two birds with one stone!


Everyone at some point in their lives will struggle with literal thinking. Some autistic people will struggle more and often daily.

Be mindful of this and make reasonable adjustments to adapt your conversation techniques.

Follow the advice above and have fun with your kids and learn together.

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