A red neon sign reads "laugh" against a dimly lit red, brick wall the post title and subtitle are in the foreground in white and read: Can Autistic People Understand Humor and Sarcasm? There’s a rumor that Autistic People don’t use (or cannot understand) humor and sarcasm. #ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics – do you?

Can Autistic People Understand Humor and Sarcasm?

Can Autistic People understand humor and sarcasm?

There’s a rumor that Autistic People don’t use (or cannot understand) humor and sarcasm.

#ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics – do you? 

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I feel like this rumor might be closely related to another Autism Myth that really bugs me, personally, that Autistic People don’t understand (or have no sense of) humor.

Autistic People are funny (even if non-autistic people don’t get our jokes). 

Autistic and other forms of NeuroDivergent humor and sarcasm are different from non-autistic and NeuroTypical humor and sarcasm because our brains (measurably different from non-autistic brains) influence our experience of the world and even our sense of humor.

A red neon sign reads "laugh" against a dimly lit red, brick wall

Because we have different experiences of the world around us, it can make seeing eye to eye more difficult.

There are some types of humor commonly and widely accepted by NeuroTypical society that I, as an Autistic Person, don’t find funny (and vice versa). 

Just because we have different senses of humor and find different things funny, it doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. It means we have different lived experiences that make it harder for us to relate to one another.

This can be true for people regardless of NeuroType since no two people will have the same experiences. 

Though, for the most part, I find it easier to understand when other Autistics use humor and sarcasm, I sometimes struggle to understand even other Autistics and NeuroDivergents when they use sarcasm. My relationship with sarcasm (and humor) is complicated. 

a brown hand holds up a gold bubble with the word "Say what?!" in it over their head

What about the myth that Autistic People “can’t understand and never use sarcasm?”

While this may be true for some Autistic People (because of all those little subtle cues and nonverbal signals often involved in sarcastic comments), some Autistic People (myself included) can sometimes understand and use sarcasm.  

Some of us may always struggle with picking up on these little nuances. This is just one more way Autism is a SPECTRUM, with various experiences. 

My personal struggles with sarcasm come from the fact that I am a very straightforward, upfront, and literal type of thinker, which impacts how I communicate outwardly and how I interpret communication coming in.

Something else that impacts whether or not I am likely to pick up on if someone is using sarcasm (or other forms of humorous speech) is how well I know the person (or not). 

If I have the opportunity to get to know a person (and their patterns and habits), all kinds of social situations can be made easier between us (because that person becomes more predictable to me).

When I know someone is a very sarcastic (or humorous and playful) human being, I can be mentally prepared for loads and loads of sarcasm, humor, or jokes. 

I need to know that the person I’m talking to isn’t very serious. Otherwise, I won’t assume someone is being sarcastic with me, and their sarcasm may go over my head (since I tend to assume most people are as straightforward as I am in the moment). This is a big reason sarcasm can be very confusing (for me)

a blackboard with the words what in the actual hell written in teal - the board sits on a yellow wall

Another instance where I struggle with sarcasm is when people use sarcasm in written text (and they don’t use emojis or other marks to notate their sarcastic tone). 

If you are being sarcastic with me in writing, PLEASE use some winky face, LOL face, or notate your sarcasm with me. 

Like everyone, I will read tone based on my personal life experience and ways of interpreting information. I can joke around (and even enjoy it), but if you don’t tell me you’re trying to be funny and let me in on the joke, it may not occur to me (depending on the context).

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2 thoughts on “Can Autistic People Understand Humor and Sarcasm?

  1. Within the DSM and Asbergers, one of the qualifiers was a lack of sense of humor, but hey, it was a Nazi scientist cracking jokes. Not all humor is relative to others. Not to mention, the studieing of women with the same condition didn’t happen.

  2. As with all stereotypes, there’s a grain of truth to the subject, but it’s also a far more complicated subject than the steretype would have you believe. (but then again, that’s the purpose of stereotypes: to reduce complex subjects to their simplest form). As a general rule, I think autistics have more difficulty with sarcasm and humor (or at least NT humor) than NTs do, because of the difficulties we typically have with nonliteral language and nonverbal language. But that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of using them, or of learning to. (Although there may be a few who also have other differences that affect their ability). Like so many things with our uneven profiles, and uneven performance abilities, it can also vary from day to day, or situation to situation, as you mention above. I think you summed the subject up well.

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