What’s So Funny About Asperger Syndrome?

September 21, 2010

By Dan Coulter

I’ve heard many parents of children with Asperger Syndrome talk about their kids’ sense of humor. This may be because a lot of humor comes from seeing things from a different perspective. Both my son, Drew, and I have Asperger Syndrome, so my wife and daughter have years of experience dealing with our intentional and unintentional comedy.When Drew was little, Sesame Street often taught Spanish words along with English words. On a visit to see Drew’s grandparents, his proper Southern grandmother (who has the grandkids call her “Mimi”) asked in a delicate way if he needed to go to the bathroom, “Drew, do you need to go tee tee before you go to bed?”Drew looked up at her seriously, “Mimi, is that Spanish for pee pee?”When Drew was a teenager, he was, well, a teenager. I remember one exchange with his mom, Julie.“Drew, what time do you want me to pick you up?” Julie asked.“I TOLD you, 2 p.m.” Drew sounded exasperated.“But you know I’m getting senile,” Julie joked.“Why don’t you ever get senile when I need it?” Drew grinned.Some of these interactions are really funny. Some are just kind of amusing –- or confusing. You can wonder how a young person who is very literal in some ways can sometimes make jokes involving the multiple meanings of words.The other day, Julie and I were talking about politics and one of us mentioned a lack of congressional oversight on some issue.“Oh, there’s PLENTY of oversight!” Drew interjected, shading his inflection to suggest that Congress was overlooking problems.Sometimes children with Asperger Syndrome are great mimics. I know of a young man who memorizes Jeff Foxworthy routines word for word and entertains his family. In conversation, Drew will frequently quote applicable funny lines from movies.Johnny Carson used to kid about breaking the comedy rule and telling one joke too many. Sensing when to stop can be a real challenge for children with Asperger Syndrome. So can sensing what’s appropriate for what audience. Then, of course, there’s the issue of kids with Asperger Syndrome understanding other people’s humor and getting their jokes.While this can be complicated, helping your children break the code on humor can be a tremendous bridge to social acceptance. It’s worth some lessons. Yes, lessons. You could do this yourself, or find a social skills class that covers this territory. Teaching children how to tell a story and how to gauge listener reaction and when to stop talking. Whether or not they like to perform themselves, helping children understand how important it is to show appreciation for other people’s humor. Explaining jokes that children don’t get to help them see why they are funny. When you think about how often people joke around at school or in a workplace, you can appreciate just how important this can be to your child with Asperger Syndrome. Where to start? If you have small children, one of my personal favorite kid jokes is the interrupting cow story told to me years ago by my daughter, Jessie.

JESSIE: Knock, knock!

ME: Who’s there?

JESSIE: The Interrupting Cow.

ME: The Interrupting…

JESSIE: MOO!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of ten DVDs designed to help people with Asperger Syndrome and autism, including “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills." You can read more of Dan’s articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter    All Rights Reserved.     Used by Permission.

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