3 Reasons Language is Difficult for Aspies

White male facing a black woman having a serious conversation

3 Reasons Language is Difficult for Aspies

Speaking to an Aspie or someone with autism can be more difficult you think! But there are reasons why language is difficult for Aspies as well as others with autism. As our brains are wired a little differently, we can often struggle to understand or process language in the same way or at the same speed.  Here’s some information and advice that can help you have better conversations with those on the autistic spectrum.


1.Literal Language

‘Just throw that bag into the car for me…’

If you have ever said these words to a loved one with autism you may have regretted it! It is no secret that those of us who have autism take things very literally. This is one of the more obvious ways that language is difficult for Aspies.

In this scenario what you wanted to happen is for the bag to be placed in the car. Unfortunately that’s not what you said.  You said ‘throw’ and so that is exactly what anyone with autism may do. You’d just better hope that there was nothing breakable in the bag!

So, you may ask why do people with autism take things literally?

I’m going to throw that question back. Why do you say things that you don’t mean?

In this example if you had asked, ‘will you put that bag on the back seat in the car please?’ there would have been no problem.

It’s well-known that communication difficulties are one of the major features of autism, but if those without Autism remember to be specific, it could save a lot of misunderstandings!

Another way to help support your child or loved one with autism, is to make sure they understand the instructions, even if you have used a word or phrase that could be misunderstood.  A conversation between a parent and child might go like this:

Parent: Can you throw this bag in the car for me?

Child: Okay.

Parent: When I said throw, I meant put the bag in the car, okay?

Child: Okay, I’ll put it in the car.

If you’ve tried this for a while, later on you could ask the child instead of telling them, to see if they have made the connection.

Parent: Can you throw this bag in the car for me?

Child: Okay.

Parent: When I said throw what did I mean?

Child: You meant put it in the car.

This way, you’re helping your child or loved one to learn to generalise and that words can have different meanings. This will be an invaluable skill as they grow older and as they spend time around those who may not realise that those on the spectrum take things literally.

2. Confusing Phrases

As well as taking things literally, using confusing phrases can also be a reason language is difficult for aspies. This is definitely a problem in school, especially as classes are often addressed as a whole and individual communication needs can often be forgotten. Common phrases such as ‘Pull your socks up’ can cause a lot of confusion for those with autism – especially if they aren’t wearing socks!
I saw just how problematic this could be when I saw a teacher praising a child with Autism for getting quite a few questions right. Unfortunately the phrase they used was ‘ Wow you’re on fire today!’ Needless to say this frightened the child beyond belief as he then jumped up and began patting himself down believing that he was actually on fire.

One brilliant resource that I’ve used in my own classroom to try to help pupils with difficulties in understanding common phrases (or idioms) is this ‘Idiom of the Week’  display.

[amazon_link asins=’B0031SCWWC’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’aspmis-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’f0af9d46-4800-11e7-ae23-b9195f2b71d5′]

The pupils in my class, both with and without autism, loved coming in on a Monday morning and looking at the new phrase for the week. With 20 double-sided cards, it will last the whole school year and there’s even space underneath for children’s own pictures to explain the phrase.

This is an amazon affiliate link but I honestly wouldn’t recommend anything that I hadn’t personally used myself and this was a tool I used in my class over and over again. For the price, it’s an excellent investment for any classroom or playroom.


3. Processing Language

Processing is how long it takes to understand what has been said and respond. As we all know, those on the spectrum have brains that are wired a little differently and this can affect the length of time it takes to understand what has been said and respond.

I often find myself asking ‘What?’ when people speak to me and then before they’ve finished repeating what they said I’ve got an answer. It only dawned on me recently that this was due to it taking a little more time to process that the average person. I didn’t actually need the phrase repeating, I just needed a little more time to figure it out!

It isn’t that I can’t reply.  It’s that I can’t reply as quickly you expect me to. As a child, I had my hearing tested numerous times due the fact that I either didn’t respond (if I was engrossed with an obsession) or I responded with ‘What?’. My parents were worried I had a hearing impairment. Unfortunately the test that was used asked me to press a button whenever I heard a beep. As I didn’t have to process any language or words, my responses were within normal ranges and so a hearing impairment was ruled out.

This is important to remember. Sometimes it may take 10 or 15 seconds for a person with autism to respond. Give them time! If you repeat the question or re-phrase it, it can often confuse us even more and we have to start over. This means you end up waiting longer!

In class, I’ll often ask a child who I know has language difficulties, a question but say I’ll come back to them in a minute for an answer. This gives them time to think of an answer and be ready to give it to me when I return. As they can then respond quickly when I ask them again, I think this can boost their self-esteem as they are able to answer as quickly as their classmates. Using this also makes sure that every pupil, even if they have language processing difficulties, can take part in class discussions without being anxious about it.

Hopefully this has helped you understand a little bit more about how those on the autistic spectrum, including myself, understand language and why sometimes it is so confusing for us! If you have any other suggestions on how you help your loved ones with autism understand language better, then I’d love to hear them! Use the comments box below!

Speak soon








  1. Emma Dawson

    Language isn’t always difficult for Aspies. Some of us are quite eloquent, if a little verbose. I knpw what ‘pull your socks up’ means & I don’t take the phrase literally. B;ogs, such as these can easily make Aspies question as to whether they have the condition.
    I honestly think that I might have lied to the psychologist, who assessed me, as this article has no relevance at all to me.
    This article might be of interest to male Aspies.

    1. Aspie Miss (Post author)

      Hi! I think it’s interesting that we all have so many different experiences. I guess that’s what makes diagnosing ASD so difficult.
      As a woman with Aspergers and as an SEN teacher, I have experienced these difficulties and see children struggle with them every day. It has been well-documented that early intervention can make huge differences in supporting those on the spectrum, so I’m sure there will be those for whom these are less of an issue.

  2. Canadian Girls

    I’ve said “throw this bag in the car” and that’s exactly what my 11 yr old aspie did. You are so right on with this post. She has finally told me that she doesn’t want me to try to explain myself when she gives my question a long silence. She, too, said, that just confuses her more.
    She always answers me well if I just wait, even if it takes 3-5 whole minutes. She is very smart, just needs time to turn my words into something she gets.

    I highly recommend your suggestions.


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