Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Anyone can be fired"

While I was at the USAAA conference I met the authors of the book Unintentional Humor. I was honored to receive an autographed copy and as soon as I got back to my room I started reading the book.

The book is a great resource for understanding the literalness of the mind on the autism spectrum as it has page after page of illustrated examples of how figures of speech can make no sense at all. So, while I was reading it and read the page about being "fired" it sparked a memory from 1990.

I think this story will be in my third or fourth book, but that won't be released for quite some time so I'll share it here and now. It was 1990 and we were either driving to Gordon, Nebraska or driving home from there. All I know is that we were somewhere along the road in Nebraska and at some point in time we stopped for gas.

While we were stopped my brother and sister were talking and somehow the conversation got onto the fact of a person being fired. I had no idea what this phrase meant and from the conversation I gathered that this was the end of a job. However, I also took a literal stance on this and as I looked out into an empty field to my left I was visualizing someone being fired and it was a bone-chilling sight as, in my mind, if you got fired the employer would take you to a field and set you on fire.

My seven year old brain was now having severe anxiety for fear that anyone I knew could be fired at any point. I then asked the question if my dad could be fired to which someone, be it my sister, brother, or mom said, "sure, anyone can be fired."

The gas tank was filled and we couldn't have gotten out of there any faster as I kept looking into that empty field looming there just waiting for the next firing victim. The rest of the ride was one of severe angst as I tried to comprehend why anyone would want a job because if one failed they were set on fire. Even more so, what happens if someone I know would get fired?

I'm sure if everyone can remember back to when they were a child I would think that everyone has a story somewhat like this. At some point in time everyone has taken something literal, right? It's just that, for those on the autism spectrum, it is much more likely to happen. And when it does it can take make the world a very confusing or a highly scary place.

It took several weeks before I finally asked one of my parents if, when a person gets fired, do they tie a person up and literally fire them. I was so scared of the answer because I was sure it was a fact, but my response was a bit of laughter and a, "Why would you ever think that?"

On my plane ride home on Sunday I finished looking through Unintentional Humor and there were examples in there that I didn't even think of in terms of taking things literally. This is a thing of the autism spectrum that, unless it is explained, I think a person uninitiated with the autism spectrum would have a hard time understanding. I mean, would a normal person truly understand that a person could have difficulties with the phrase, "it's raining cats and dogs?" or that yelling "Duck!" at a person doesn't mean that there is a bird about but rather that a person should get lower. (I fell victim to that in gym class one time in 1st or 2nd grade much to the amusement of my classmates.)

So yes, this is something that certainly needs to be understood by, well, everyone. I think teachers though need to be alerted to this fact the most as there was one unfortunate story of a teacher telling a student to go "crack the window" with a literal ending. Figures of speeches and idioms are such an entrenched part of our language and even I use them for it's much easier to say them then to understand them but next time you use one just make sure that everyone understood it because you just never will know when a person, like myself, will visually see the literal interpretation of it and will be fearing for the lives of their family so they are brought to that creepy field in Nebraska and literally fired. 


  1. I'm sorry Aaron but this had me in tears of laughter. I often have to clarify this kind of thing for my boys. In fact, I am writing a post about it that I hope will be up on my blog tomorrow. I am sorry for that creepy memory of your childhood...but glad you illustrated so well here. I will reference to this post in my blog. I hope you don't mind.

  2. This is one of the things I'm careful about with my son - I normally check for understanding with a new idiom. One time my son's 2nd grade teacher told my son "dump out your shoes" meaning to dump the woodchips out of them. Found my son's shoes in the trash a bit later. :o)

    A book I used with my son when he was in K/1st grade was "Even More Parts" by Tedd Arnold. Great illustrated book of common idioms like "All eyes on me", "cat got your tongue?". My son loved it.

  3. Thanks for talking about this issue. One problem with each person on the spectrum is for me as a parent is what does my child understand (being non-verbal right now as well). Sometimes it is hard maybe for lack of time or just keeping the language shorter and to the point. It's a whole new way of communicating and I know sometimes he gets it, sometimes he don't..I try my best but it doesn't always work

  4. Our son (he's almost 14) has Aspergers. I've been explaining figures of speech to him for YEARS and YEARS, even before his diagnosis at age 5. I remember the look he gave me at the expression, "Cat got your tongue?" I still regularly ask him if he's heard an expression when we hear one I'm not sure he's encountered before, and I explain it to him. Sometimes he'll ask me to clarify an idiom for him. Thanks for illustrating "fired" so well.

  5. We have used a dictionary of Idioms (a commonly used school book company publishes one) with my aspie child, and she read it so often that the binding fell apart and we've gotten the replacement - it has helped tremendously...

  6. As an ELD student when I was in middle school, so I was taught everything from the ground up with English. Although there maybe an occasional idiom that I don't get, but I can always ask people what they mean if I have never heard it before.