Friday, February 20, 2015

Humour and Autism

                  I was reading a book from the series Amelia Bedelia. The books are about Amelia, whose  intentions are good but is a little foolish. In the story Amelia is asked to stake the bean poles, but she ends up tying steak to the plants. I showed Ramam what staking a bean pole means, and explained steak to be a kind of meat. So in one of the reading sessions when he got the meaning, he chuckled when I read out this passage.
                               The other night I was trying to educate my daughter on the names of dishes unique to Kerala Iyers, because it can get embarrassing when we have guests. Somebody tells her to pass a bowl of something and she would give them an "I don't know which one" look. Ramam was listening to this ongoing conversation. I then said Rama's turn and asked him what this is? Although he knew the right name, he kept grinning and told me something else. I tried this 2-3 times and realized with his limited language abilities he was cracking a joke.

                                Many think people on the spectrum do not have a sense of humour. That is not the case, however people on the spectrum may have difficulty understanding certain types of humour. Understanding humour requires ability to understand innuendos, social norms..... Social interaction itself wearies them down.

                                Although an individual on the autism spectrum may, with sufficient time, be able to reason himself or herself to the humor in a situation, this process is often less intuitive than it is in the general population.

                       To quote from Autism society of America, to help people on the spectrum, different approaches may be tried as explicitly explaining the joke, learning to appreciate non-verbal cues, telling what it is safe to joke about. Genuine attempts by the caregivers’ to appreciate the person’s humour, pointing how a repeated joke can be a kill joy, helping the person appreciating his own sense of humour….

"Several studies consistently conclude that individuals with ASD are able to enjoy simple forms of humor such as word plays or simple verbal and visual jokes and film clips. Thus, the ability to resolve incongruities, which is viewed as the core cognitive process required to appreciate all forms of humor, is intact in individuals with ASD. However, individuals with ASD have difficulties with understanding more complex forms of jokes, especially if they have to attribute (false) mental states to one of the protagonists portrayed in a cartoon (for example), or difficulties with humor which is embedded in social contexts and for which understanding it is necessary to read subtle (nonverbal) cues in others."-  The people's science 

                                    However, it is surprising how autism weaves humour into our lives. More so a sense of black humour. What might sound offensive or politically incorrect to an outsider may very well be acceptable for us. So we end up sometimes mimicking Ramam's phrases, like when sleepy he says "I want to cuddle and go and sleep “or when stressed  out  I say " I have a sensory overload”. Or when we have a behavioral issue, my husband will ask me what is the technique to use here, ABA, RPM, CAP, CPM, RET..... and I would be frowning at him.

                                     Long back when I saw a child giggling for no apparent reason, his mother told me he was probably recalling something humorous now. Quite possible. If you were to the question to a person on bio medical interventions, he would attribute the giggling to excessive yeast, phenolic foods in the body. If you ask a behavioural therapist, the giggling could be an attention seeking behaviour and by responding you would be feeding into the behaviour.  An occupational therapist may see reasons to look at it as a sensory dysfunction and might put the child on a sensory diet. Ha! Therapy speak. I love it. The reasons may be one of these, some of these or none of these. And so it goes on and on. But at the end of the day you have a problem and it needs to be resolved. If you actually sit down and think about it all, one could have a one big laugh. And as we survive autism with a healthy dose of humour and a dash of madness,  I leave you with some quotes on autism humour.

                                Keep staring, it might cure my child's autism - then we can work on your social skills. T-Shirt
Yesss! The sound of rain  devastated him but sounds of tonka trucks thrown off the balcony is great fun!
You might be an autism parent if your child hates noise but is the loudest person you know!
You may be an autism parent if after discovering an act of anarchy you cannot but help the planning and fine motor skills....

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