Literal Language

Eastside SpeechResources

literal language

Some children and adults, especially those with social-emotional communication impairments, will understand and use literal language. But they can struggle with the flexibility of language and understanding underlying meanings that are inferred rather than explicitly stated.

However, in conversational speech we often use metaphors, sarcasm and irony without even thinking about it; and it’s our intuition, social empathy, and context that help us to understand. Yet, this type of language can cause confusion and distress for those who struggle with social communication. They may well have heard what has been said but don’t understand the intended meaning. Added to this, there may also be difficulties in recognising and understanding the significance of tone, inflection, and emphasis in spoken language.

So, how can we help those who find the social language difficult?

A few simple tips:

  • Taking time to think about the words you use and explain them with your child in a fun and relaxed way. Being able to show them that words have more than one meaning, depending on how and when they are used. Also showing them explicitly the context surrounding the words can help them understand the intended meaning.
  • Practice using metaphors with them and point them out if you are reading a book together, or observing someone on TV/Radio using them.
  • When your child is feeling overwhelmed, make the effort to choose your words carefully, so they can interpret your language, remembering they will be thinking literally. Avoid sarcasm. When they understand clearly what is expected of them, they are more likely to be calmer (and compliant).
  • Practice for yourself seeing (and hearing) the world through their eyes. This will help grow our understanding and appreciation of their experience.