aspergers, autism, culture, health, living abroad, psychology, travel

In a Literal Sense

close up photo of assorted books
Photo by Leah Kelley on

The Root of the Problem

My father took me to see the physician when I was 14. The man was an older gent from The Philippines I’ll call Dr. Ruiz He was a great doctor with excellent bedside manner. One time during a check-up the guy had just undergone a root canal. Dr. Ruiz stated his experience was awful. I knew nothing about medicine and didn’t realize doctors had to see other doctors. I thought they were invincible. What threw me off was when Dr. Ruiz said it felt someone just kicked you in the shin with a steel toe. That made no sense whatsoever. How was that even possible? I thought a root canal was an injection in your gums. How could he feel it in his shin? Then my dad said, “Dr. Ruiz was talking about the actual intensity of the pain. He didn’t realize he was describing it to a kid.” Let me remind the readers nobody knew what was up then. This is one case where I’d give my dad a free pass for his condescension.

No More Backwash

Another time, Mireya, a Chilean friend of my sister was discussing Chile. What perplexed me was when Mireya said the toilets there flush backwards. Then I started gagging. I thought she meant they spit all the contents out when someone pulls the handle after usage. How disgusting I imagined. If they’re going to relieve themselves, they might as well do it on the floor if that’s how the commode operates. Mireya didn’t specify that the water descends counter-clockwise in lieu of clockwise. That would’ve made more sense had she clarified. It turns out that’s another urban legend. I was convinced for the longest time with my studies in geography that was the case with all toilets and sink in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Coriolis effect, but that has been debunked. It’s the way the drain is designed rather than the rotation of the earth on its axis.

Sarcasm and Phantasm

How does this relate to autism? Folks on the spectrum think literally. Obviously, I know what Dr. Ruiz and Mireya meant now. Just because an autistic kid doesn’t understand sarcasm and idioms doesn’t mean he’s stupid. That’s the way our brains are hard-wired. This is why I’ve had cultural clashes with some British expats. I know my friends from the UK mean well, but their idea of humor is sarcasm. They don’t mean any harm; that’s just their modus operandi. A couple of times, they’ve had to throw a bone to other Brits being that way and tell them I’m American, and sarcasm doesn’t mix with my repertoire. This I suspect is why many on the spectrum make great historians, statisticians, mathematicians, scientists, and programmers. The information is quite literal. It’s cut-and-dry. It’s not abstract like philosophy and whatnot.

The Copernican Revolution

With philosophy I had a difficult time in college. The subject entailed many open-ended ideas. We’ve all heard the cliché: if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around, does it still make a sound? There’s no question it will, but nobody has any way of showing that. Later I grew to respect philosophy. One thing I learned is not all information comes by trial and error. The empiricist John Locke tried to argue all we learn comes from prior knowledge. My personal favorite is none other than Immanuel Kant. I admire Kant not only because it was he who recognized geography as a discipline. Kant debunked Locke’s claim stating that if all our knowledge was acquired through induction, there’s no certainty but only possibility. That was the genesis of the Copernican Revolution which states “Act only according to that maxim you can at the same will to be a universal law.” What that means is something along the lines of I’m thirsty; therefore, I must drink. If there’s no law against stealing; then there’s no property. If all promises are broken, they have no meaning. You get the idea. I have no way of proving how much I love my mother or that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. The readers will just have to take that on faith and chalk it up as common knowledge.

There is no Common Sense

All this is the quintessential reason why I insist the phrase “common sense” be omitted from the English language. If you think long and hard enough, not only is it an oxymoron; it’s presumptuous. The person who uses that phrase assumes everyone thinks the way he/she does. In many cases, people use it as a shaming tactic to berate others. People with autism don’t know social rules the way NT’s do. Some of that I surmise is because we tend to grow up as outcasts alienated by their peers. Nobody will include us into their cliques where we could learn nonverbal cues and such. People who are street smart have been around the block pun intended. Those NT’s learned how to read others at an early age. I still have a penchant to take things literally when people are being sarcastic. Sometimes I feel as if they’re mocking me with backhanded insults. That’s why I ask them to elaborate to avoid any confusions. My philosophy is there’s no such thing as a stupid question unless you already know the answer. That I mean in a literal sense.


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