I often get asked in presentations if I, "have ever had issues taking things literally?" I will usually mention that typically I do not unless I have not heard a line before. Little did I know I've been hearing a line over and over and had no idea it's true meaning.
I discovered my error over Christmas while at my sister's during our annual Who Wants to Be a Millionaire games on the Wii. It was the 2nd year for this and on my turn the second question I came across was, "Usually, what does it mean if someone has had a checkered past?" The first thing that popped into my mind was this photo of me:
To me, this is checkered. The options for the question were, "A. A troubled past B. A past filled with victories C. A past filled with dental issues or D. Lots of days playing checkers." With the image of me flying the checkered flag for the winner I instantly, without a second thought, went with B. My sister blurted out in a sad tone, "Aaron..." and I was confused as I was expecting the music of a right answer to play, but my joy experienced a false start as the crashing tones of the wrong answer played. I was in shock.
My sister looked at me in a confused manner as if to say, "How did you miss that?" and I stared at the screen perplexed. I've heard that phrase used so many times and I thought it meant someone of a hero status who always was on top. As my mom took her turn to play I got on my phone to look it up and was flabbergasted when it read, "A morally dubious past."
Thankfully, my misunderstanding only hurt me on the score sheet (although I must brag I came out ahead in the end, although it was a hard fought fight on the last night) but I experienced a thing that many people on the spectrum face. Non-literal sayings like this can wreak havoc on us. If it weren't for WWTBAM I probably still would think checkered past meant something much like the photo above.
There are so many figures of speech, and I use them too, that I think we forget about them and simply take them for granted. As you go through your day today just take a step back and listen to all the conversations. Keep a mental note of how many phrases are said that aren't literal. Also, keep track of how many times you hear, "That was like a..." Each time you hear one just think how confusing it would be if you took it as literal as possible. Maybe you'll hear a lot, maybe you'll hear a few, or perhaps none, but even if you hear one, or use one without thinking, just think how difficult or confusing it would be if you took it in the literal fashion. I'm thankful that, for the most part, I understand non-literal sayings... Although perhaps I just think I do. How many more sayings are out there that are like "A checkered past" that I have misunderstood? Hopefully there aren't many...