Soup’s on! If you’re an autistic person, you might have no idea what that phrase means. In fact, I didn’t know what it meant until I wrote this caption. Apparently, it’s short for “soup is on the table,” which means that a meal has been served.
Idiomatic expressions like, “Soup’s on!” or “A dime a dozen,” rely on context and emotion. These phrases are the epitome of reading-between-the-lines and can’t be taken literally. While autistics may recognize idioms, we often struggle to understand them.
When an autistic person struggles with figurative language, we may face social consequences. For example, if we can’t comprehend idioms, especially in popular slang (i.e. “spill the tea”), we are usually teased. Even worse, we might be marked as odd and alienated.
Autistic people may resort to memorizing idioms and slang one-by-one as a means of survival. However, rote memorization is exhausting and can lead to scripting fatigue. Also, the more effort we put into fitting in, the more critical we may be of ourselves when we misunderstand.
Instead of mimicking allistic language patterns, autistic people can build our own innovative ways of navigating social confusion. Here are a few of my ideas.
1) Monitor my emotions. When I can’t comprehend what someone is communicating, I can get very frustrated quickly! This frustration stems from confusion and fear. If I’m in this headspace, it’s actually better for me to feign understanding. Otherwise, my frustration will come across as unwarranted anger.
2) Compliment before asking for clarification. I love this trick! Whenever I respond to an idiom with excitement like, “I like the sound of that phrase! Tell me what it means!”, the other person is often eager to explain.
3) Smile and don’t nod. While pretending to understand is a great escape method, I often feel anxious later on. After all, what if I missed something essential? Instead, I say, “Wait! That sounded important. Can you rephrase what you said, so I’m sure I understand.” Note: Rephrasing helps more than repeating.