Teaching Children with Autism How to Enjoy Jokes and Idioms
St. Patrick’s Day approaches and so continues the decades-long tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day pinch if you’re not wearing green. We all remember a time or two when our arms stung from forgetting to wear St. Patrick’s green. While harmless on the whole, for children with autism it can be hard to understand the difference between a harmless prank and something that can physically harm another child.
Humor is important to your child’s social development
Humor is important for children because being able to tell jokes and laugh with others helps them interact and make friends. Unfortunately, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tell significantly fewer jokes than their typical peers. Not being able to understand humor, or inspire laughter in others can negatively affect the development of peer relationships and social participation. In ASD children, this could lead to a further deterioration of social skills and interpersonal relationships.
Studies have found that using jokes or teaching humor and laughter to children diagnosed with autism can improve social skills and relationships with peers.
Children with autism and special needs, particularly those with social or communication delays, may need more direct instruction in the skill of joke telling and the understanding of idioms. Because children may not make the connections needed to sometimes understand the abstract language that can make a joke funny, it is important to use visual tools and concrete examples to demonstrate how jokes and idioms are constructed.
The My School Day CD and My School Day App have a whole category dedicated to understanding the difference between laughing AT someone versus laughing WITH someone. In this selection we discuss teasing versus enjoying a joke together.
Simple strategies to expand your child’s sense of humor
Its important to experiment with positive and appropriate jokes, trying them out at home and perhaps even memorizing a few that are appropriate to tell in social environments.
- Look into visual humor: Use cartoons, comic books and slapstick comedy to demonstrate what is considered funny, making sure to remind them that the images shown are unrealistic and should not be duplicated.
- Memorize one or two jokes: Knock-Knock jokes are great place to start. The examples should always include the differences between a good-natured joke and doing something that can hurt someone’s feelings.
- Teach idioms: Gradually expose your child to idioms and explain their meaning. Use tools such as videos or flashcards to help them develop a better understanding of these complex statements.
- Train your child to seek clarification when they are confused. Idioms are ambiguous and often leave children with ASD confused or accepting the statement as fact yet denying the possibility.
- Practice, practice, practice: For children with autism humor is an ever evolving and developing skill. Have fun developing your child’s sense of humor; a family that laughs together, has less stress and grows together in amazing ways.
Making an effort to add humor to daily activities, giving your child the opportunity to recognize the funny in the every day will allow him or her to practice and develop a more sophisticated sense of humor in time.
As children get older, the ability to see and understand humor is increasingly important. Children with a sense of humor are better liked by their peers, and have more friends, higher self-esteem, and a more positive outlook on life. Perhaps most importantly, they can be more tolerant of others, and are better equipped to handle situations at school and the inevitable teasing and bullying that often accompanies childhood.