When A Child With Autism Struggles Understanding Sarcasm

kerryBy Kerry Magro, Self-Advocate, National Speaker, and Author

Someone once said that ‘sarcasm is a metric for potential.’ Often at times though this is one of the hardest struggles for those with autism growing up.

A lack of sarcasm is often one of the most common characteristics of struggling with an autism diagnosis along with things such as social and communication issues, difficulties reading body language, using different tones in their voices and many more.

I remember as a young boy on the spectrum in computer class and hearing a joke that I didn’t find funny. It was a sarcastic joke by our teacher and while everyone else in the class laughed I was there completely blank. A girl looked at me after the joke had stopped like I had three heads.

To fit in, I’d often laugh whenever my peers would laugh so I could be part of the group.

Are you joking or are you serious became a common challenge for me during my adolescence. Luckily, my parents started pointing out sarcasm in every day situations and phrases. I could remember a very short woman who was wearing heels one day at school and someone saying, “oh wow, you are SO tall today” and me saying, “but wait, she’s still only 5 feet tall.” Along with my parents, teachers would quickly come in to make me understand the different between a serious moment and sarcasm.

Unfortunately, due to my lack of understanding sarcasm I would often befriend bullies who I thought wanted to be my friends. I was overweight when I was a child for example and a kid would say “Oh, Kerry, you are so skinny” and I’d take that as a compliment.

For educators and parents I often encourage to be as clear in your messaging as humanly possible to avoid misunderstandings. There are many sarcastic phrases today that may go over our heads including phrases such as ‘well that’s just great’ that can be taken literally by many of us.

Also understand though that, like many of my mentees today who are teenagers on the spectrum that they can often out-sarcasam their neurotypical peers at times.

It’s a spectrum.

If your child had a social skills class make sure that this is addressed. Bring it up at a parent/teacher conference. Also, this is something that you can mention in your child’s IEP as something they need additional help with.

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