Autistic People Can't Understand Metaphor ?

© Donna Williams

I can rote learn fun lines from advertisements, jingles, songs. Metaphors are some of these funny lines. I can learn metaphors as fun lines just like any other. And I commonly jumble them or use them in the wrong places, boldly certain I'm being linguistically creative and sounding like a total pratt. It is many the time I have looked at a supressed giggle or cringed at the overt ones as I fall over metaphors. I like metaphors, they are funny, but there's a difference between learning language through rote and grasping, retrieiving and applying it based on interpretive understanding.

But to say Autistic people can't understand metaphor is also a myth.

I may struggle with metaphors I haven't had fully explained to me but boy oh boy... my entire life is like a metaphor.

Take for example the fact I think the world is divided into 'cat people' and 'dog people'. The cat people are the ones with an extreme sense of having their own island (ha ha another metaphor!) who don't cope easily with change, strangers or being pursued or watched directly. The dog people are the in-your-face ones who love change and meeting strangers and are eager to please, conform and devote themselves to deep entanglements with panting eagerness and inexhaustible desire for more stimulation.

Then there's times like when I entered an elevator inside a car park and it had blue tiles on the wall so I thought it was a toilet without the cubicles and found it very strange that it moved! Or when I looked up at the ducting in a lecture theatre and thought perhaps there was a massive clothes dryer on the other side of the wall and that when this was clarified there was no dryer I suddenly worried that perhaps we had all walked unknowingly inside a big dryer that looked like a lecture theatre. or the time I went up to someone's necklace which was curved and black glass inside a rectangular metal frame and asked 'does it work' thinking it was a tiny television.

So is this not metaphor ? Because it seems to me my world is like a big string of metaphors, that I live in a big string of metaphors and that the rest of the world sees things based on meaning, literal meaning, but let me tell those of you with the luxury to rely on eyes and ears that can interpret fluently and broadly, the world of someone with receptive processing challenges is one where you make whatever close matches you can and many are nothing like you'd make if you could process fluently for interpretive meaning. So do I understand metaphor? I think so. Because a necklace is not a TV, a lecture theatre is not a clothes dryer, an elevator is not a public toilet (well in fact some non-Autistic people seem to have confused that one... I've been in some very dirty elevators!).