A few nights ago after supper my parents and I hung around the T.V. not watching anything in particular. I asked to see if I could see the guide on the screen to see what was on and to pick something. Dad said no. I kept insisting for a few seconds and he kept on saying no. And then Mom said something like, “Oh come on, J.C., he’s only joking. Look, he’s holding it right out.” I looked at his hand and sure enough he was holding it somewhat out (although even if I saw that he was I don’t think I could’ve known he was joking).
This is just an example of a situation that comes up sometimes in my life. I can’t always tell just how seriously I should be taking people’s words. Often it’s a piece of cake because of the context, but there have been circumstances, like the one just described, where I sometimes get it wrong. It’s in these circumstances when it just isn’t clear, at least to me, from the context. In the example of the T.V., sometimes my parents are indeed trying to watch something and so I don’t get a say in who channel to watch. Another reason why I can’t sometimes tell is that there was no announcement that we were going to be joking around. It’s not as if we all decided to spend a certain amount of time not taking each other seriously. The incident with the T.V. wasn’t part of anything like that. It was isolated and had come out of left-field. And then there are the after-effects afterward, such as feeling foolish in not realising the other joking around.
And it’s not just incidents where I take people too seriously that my literal mind has a problem with. Whenever someone says something to me that isn’t to be taken in the full literal sense, there’s always the risk of misinterpretation. An instance of this is when there’s a hidden qualification. When someone says statement A, but it’s supposed to be interpreted as ‘A if B’ or ‘A as long as B’ where B is just some statement that the speaker takes for granted that applies to A in some manner.
Let me a share a couple of examples. On a bus ride up from home to university, I was at a bus terminal. I was about to get on the bus I was to take to university, when the driver asked where I was going. I answered that I was going to the town my university was in. He asked me again and I answered with the town again. He might have asked yet again, I’m not sure. Then he asked me if I was going to some specific place in the town that wasn’t the university and I answered that, no, it was the university I was going too. He seemed a bit annoyed that he had to go through all this trouble to get the answer he was looking for. He could’ve asked where it was I was going to in the town. Another example is when I was in my first year at university. In an English course that year, we had the option of doing a creative writing exercise from Stephen King’s On Writing. The exercise entailed an imagined scenario of a woman trying to hide from her ex-husband who’s escaped from jail to hunt her down. King then suggested that the reader continue the scenario, but change the sexes so that this time it was the woman hunting the man down. After I got my assignment back, even though I wasn’t deducted points for it, the professor was surprised that I changed the character names. Apparently he had expected me to keep the character names that King created in that book Dick and Jane. Not to make such a big deal out of this, I just wanted point out that nowhere in the exercise did King say to keep the character names. Yet it was assumed that I would do so.
I don’t take everything I see at face-value. I just seem to take more at face-value than what a non-autistic does. And given that it only happens once in a while, I don’t feel a great motivation to do much about it (if anything can be done about it). Besides, I think trying to improve it isn’t what’s important. Or at least it isn’t nearly as important as getting others to accept that misinterpretation can occur. There’s no reason to get annoyed like that bus driver. As soon as we’ve managed to understand each other, we can all go on our merry way.