I was ten when I realised that changing your mind is a horrible thing.

Think about it.

Having your mind changed?! How on Earth do you do that? Is there an operation involved, and how would it not kill you? Would you still be you afterwards, or would somebody else have stolen your body and be living your life pretending to be you?


Allow me to demonstrate what changing your mind really is.

You’d be amazed how often we use idioms whilst honestly thinking they’re literal. I’m willing to bet that at least a few of you didn’t realise that ‘changing your mind’ wasn’t even literal until I pointed it out just now. But, to people on the autism spectrum, there are some idioms that just don’t make sense.

This article is not about idioms that are very obviously idioms: e.g. “raining cats and dogs”. This entry is about phrases that you would probably say to someone with autism without knowing you were saying anything weird.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are some phrases that you think are literal, but really aren’t.

“Go through that door.”

Yeah… good luck with that. Doors are solid objects.

“You’ve caught the sun, haven’t you?”

I’m far cleverer than I think if I’ve managed that.

“Keep an eye out for me.”

Don’t!! It’ll be so messy!

“What’s up with you?”

Read this word for word. It’s ridiculous.

“Are you out of your mind?”


“Give me a ring later.”

I’m sure we’re supposed to go on a few dinner dates before I propose.

Are you SURE you wanted me to do this?

Are you SURE you wanted me to do this?

“He totally got stoned last night.”

Were any of his bones broken?

“Shall we press on?”

I have no idea what you’re asking me.

“I didn’t like sprouts at first, but then they grew on me.”

If someone says this, keep your distance. Whatever disease they have, you don’t want to catch it.

“I’m all ears.”

No you’re not.

Seriously. DON'T.

Seriously. DON’T DO IT.

“It’s time to toast the happy couple!”

Well that’s one way to make a wedding party more memorable.

“I just can’t get my head around it.”

…Then duck and walk under?

“Honestly, I was beside myself.”

That’s not honest at all.

There are also some phrases that sound like they should be literal, so I’ve always interpreted them that way. I remember my disappointment when I drank ‘sugar free’ Calpol, only to find that it did not contain free sugar.

The result are often embarrassing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time when Mum drove me across town and we hit red light after red light and ended up being ten minutes late.

I told her that “we must have been driving through the red light district.”

She looked at me funny.

There have to be hundreds more of these. If you have any, please load the comments section with them. It’s kind of fun collecting them.

Oh, and just to finish… never, ever, EVER tell us to “keep our eyes peeled.”

Ouch, I hate that phrase so much.

Chris Bonnello / Captain Quirk


Are you tired of characters with special needs being tokenised and based on stereotypes, or being the victims rather than the heroes? This novel series may interest you!

Underdogs, a near-future dystopia series where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is a character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, balancing intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.

Book one can be found here:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Audible (audiobook version)
Book Depository
Review page on Goodreads

Chris Bonnello is a national and international autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window).
Autistic Not Weird on Facebook

Autistic Not Weird on YouTube  

Twitter  |  Instagram

Copyright © Chris Bonnello 2015-2020  

About The Author

66 Responses

      • L

        In german it’s “Ins Grass beißen” – to bite in the grass. Do you imgagine someone on a meadow right now, too?

    • elislj

      Not an aspie moment, but my mother frowned on her granddaughters mall-walking for exercise in a cold climate. Mom, no, they are not soliciting. Trust me. Walking inside a huge mall is a thing. She also told a family gathering she was a computer nerd, believing it meant she knows nothing. Our relatives, who knew she knew nothing about computers, were quite surprised, as she is an honest person. My favorite is, in hospital she was asked her favorite foods, and she said, “I love blackberries!” The nurse near her said, “I love my Blackberry too!” and pulled out the electronic device my mother had not heard of. Their mutual look of confusion was lovely.

      There is an italian saying, ‘patti chiari, amiciazia lungha’, I think, which means ‘clear pacts, long friendship’ that I have always loved, believing it means ‘say what you mean’. I get easily frustrated with hints, idioms, unspoken expectations. “Oh, you know what I meant” someone will say. No, I honestly did not. Could you not have just said what you meant?
      Sigh. I really appreciate the humor in this column and answers, eases my heart! Thank you.

  1. poeturja

    Diagnosed late in life (because autism was not even a word when I grew up) so thought I was an alien from another planet. Showing my age here but used to parrot–and still do, some days–the sixties expression “hang in there.” As a poet, I had hours of contemplating that one 🙂

  2. Saklad5

    I understand idioms, but people think I don’t because of how often I respond with jokes about them.

  3. Richard Âû

    pull your socks up – do a better job
    don’t let the cat out of the bag – don’t tell anyone
    a few sandwiches short of a picnic – someone not very smart.
    six of one half a dozen of the other – the same either way.

    • James Lawrence

      Give it your best shot,
      make a fist of it,
      a dog’s dinner.
      make a hash of it,
      a long shot,
      a nutty fruit cake,
      cry wolf,
      rolling stone.

  4. Richard Âû

    like a bull in a china shop or to go at it like a bull at a gate

  5. Lucy VanPelt

    My son is 11. High fuctioning. Labeled “weirdo”. Friendless. Nobody knows he has Aspergers. Not even him. You are writing his life story. The more I read of yours the more I learn about my son. If you keep writing I’ll keep reading. Thank you for helping me get to know my son better!!

    • CaptainQuirk

      Thank you for the massive compliment! 🙂 I’m really glad the site has helped, and I wish you and your lad all the best as he grows up. 🙂
      (By the way, if you find yourself wondering whether/when to tell him about his Asperger’s, one of my more recent articles gives some advice on it. It may help him if he’s aware that he’s socially different but doesn’t quite know why. 🙂 Either way, high five him for me because I grew up being socially different too!)

  6. Judith

    “We’ll drop you off on the way home.”
    “I’m gonna run to store for a few things.”
    “Keep your eye on the ball.”
    “I’m gonna jump in the shower/tub before bed.”

    • CaptainQuirk

      Haha, perfect example. 🙂 We say them without even realising they’re idioms at all!

    • Amanda

      When people say that they’re gonna run somewhere real quick I tell them I’d love to see that lol! I tend to use it to and catch myself and say well I’m gonna drive somewhere real quick.

  7. Amanda

    I’m gonna take a pee or take a poo. My husband and in-laws use this one a lot and I always ask them where they’re taking it to lol.

    • CaptainQuirk

      LOL- literally yesterday, I was at a friend’s house and he asked me to take a seat.
      So, being in a jokey mood, I picked up the chair and took it out of the room. 😀

  8. Simon

    There’s a coffee shop in Australia called “coffee club”

    A girl asked if I’d like to go and I replied “I’m not a member”

    I never heard from her again.

    It’s just a stupid name! Its not an actual club!

      • CaptainQuirk

        Ha, we have them here too. 🙂 Never understood why they used that name!

      • Theo Awesomeness

        I think it’s because they serve subs. Like SUBway.
        By the way, thanks for this. I have a really crazy number of autistic people in my family, including my brother and father, but not me, and this has really helped.

  9. Courtney

    I understand idioms but, like most social situations, I take a few seconds longer then most to process and realize people are joking or using idioms/euphamisms. The words ‘horny’ (covered in horns) and ‘hot’ (temperature, not amount of spice or attractive) threw me of forever. I’m 33 and still picture someone covered in horns or sweating from overheating.

  10. Jen

    My son struggles with these… Is there a way you would recommend to help with idioms? Currently, we explain them to him one at a time. Fortunately, with him, he will remember the explanation forever but there are always new ones so I am worried we are not helping him with flexible thinking. Any advice?

    • CaptainQuirk

      For starters, keep doing what you’re doing. 🙂 Learning them one at a time is how I did it.

      Besides that, perhaps suggest to him that if something in conversation sounds unbelievable, it most likely is. It might do some good to encourage him to think that if he hears something and it doesn’t make sense (or if it doesn’t seem relevant), it’s likely that the other person’s being non-literal- so either use your imagination to picture what they might mean (depending on his level of social development) or simply ask them to clarify. 🙂 Hope this helps a little.

    • Fiona

      There’s an idiom card game where you have to match the idiom to its correct meaning. If your child likes games this could be a fun exercise. Google idiom card game or idiom fun pack. There’s also an ‘idiom of the day’ wall chart. Even without the actual games, talking (and laughing) about idioms on long drives in the car is useful.

    • Jonah

      I’m not diagnosed, though I have some traits resembling autistic ones. One thing that probably helped me understand idioms was that my family got the Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms through a school book order. Perhaps there’s an updated edition or a similar resource in print or online (hopefully more appropriate than Urban Dictionary).

  11. Michelle Storm

    I told my ASD son many years ago he had missed his window of opportunity. He ran around the house looking for it…..??

    • CaptainQuirk

      Haha, EVERYONE around me used to use that one while I was growing up. 🙂

  12. Mi

    The odd voice out– I don’t have this issue. I (suddenly noticed that) I don’t use idioms a lot, either speaking or writing, but I do understand them for some reason. Maybe it’s the same part of me that picks up on details and hints far too well (watching movies with my just a bit younger brothers and me saying ‘that’s so inappropriate’ and them saying ‘WHAT?’) but for some reason, I manage, even if it takes a bit of time afterwords to work out why that means what it means, or work out what the person is saying based on context.

    Whatever the reason, I just wanted to offer my perspective– Idioms do not faze me. Another blessing from Above. Conquering stereotypes!

  13. Tash

    I remember my son asking me ‘are you going to buy that new car? ‘ I said ‘I need to sleep on it’ it still makes me chuckle seeing his face in pure shock thinking that I was going to actually sleep on the car

  14. Andrea

    On Guide Camp, I was told to use Elbow Grease when cleaning the pans.
    I dutifully went off to the stores tent and emerged 10 minutes later having not found it. Only to be told it just meant “use a lot of energy and scrubbing”

  15. Aisling

    I was watching TV and it was reported that…’there is a plant in the audience’. I kept watching the tv and finally said to my dad ‘I can’t see the plant’. It’s meant that someone was secretly giving the answers to the man answering them, I think it was one cough to mean yes and two coughs to mean no. I will never forget that one and I still find it funny.

    Then there is the other ‘I’ve a tummy bug’ my responce was ‘how did the bug get in your tummy?’ ?

    • niahrhoads

      When I was six or seven, my babysitter was driving me to summer camp, and she was getting mad at this one lady who “ran” a stoplight. “I didn’t see her run,” was my response. My babysitter simply laughed and then explained what it meant.

  16. Marie

    Not quite the same but there is a sign that appears every so often where i live for a ‘giant plant sale’ cracks me up every time but no one else gets it! How is the visual image you get from reading giant plant sale not hilarious! It’s a sale of bus sized daffodils and Daisy’s in my head, walking round there would be like being a borrower!!!!

  17. Daniel Segard Âû

    The British expression for stopping by – “I’ll knock you up”, in America would mean “I’ll get you pregnant”.

    For me, “to change my mind” wouldn’t entail an operation, because I view “mind” as the “software”, while the brain is the “hardware”. I continue to “change my mind” by learning new things. However, the autistic “operating system” the software runs underneath remains the same. 😉

  18. NetEditor

    It’s not really an idiom but this is a good example of how I fail often to understand simple spoken English. When I was little (about 4 or 5) my grannie’s friend got a knitting machine and offered to knit things for everyone. I wanted a scarf. She asked me what colour (red) and then she asked me “How long do you want it?”. My rather confused and upset response was “I want to keep it forever.” I still remember all the adults laughing and me not having a clue what I had said that was funny.

  19. Mark Huntsman

    I alwayys caught on to idioms quickly because languages were a special interest, but there is nothing like literally translating your own language word-for-word into another for exposing the subtle uses (e.g. go through the door). I still remember telling my friend in France that I was going to get ON the bus to go downtown, because that is what we say in English. His response, roughly translated, was “I hope you have some really strong bungee cords.”

  20. Nia

    If I haven’t heard certain idioms before, then I’ll take them literally. I am thankful to Urban Dictionary for this reason. It’s taught me an awful lot of slang phrases my NT friends just pick up naturally.

  21. niahrhoads

    I learn my idioms from either books or Urban Dictionary. And very rarely, I learn them from my friends. I don’t use idioms that often, but my favorite one is “Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse”, which is said when one is putting the wrong person in charge.

  22. Ramona

    “Go through the door”

    I know you put this in but it reminds me of what I think is amusing. My door to the bedroom can either open very easily or needs a run-up and hit to open (actually not kidding on that, I have had to run-up to this door to open it). It’s currently in the “easily opens” stage. Every time I have gone to it this past month, it has opened for me.

    Logically, I know it’s the wind since my bedroom is the hotspot for wind. But it’s way more fun and entertaining to think there’s a friendly ghost rushing to open the door for me. Or a ghost that is trying to harm me but also struggles with judging distance so fails every time.

  23. Jennifer

    “His eyes popped out.” !!!!! !!!!!! !!!!!!

    When my daughter was little and just learning to read, she saw a sign on a building that included the word “carpet”. She was delighted. “Can we get a car pet?”

    We have buses that use electricity from overhead wires. They have rods that hook up to wires that are above the road. We passed a bus that was stopped while the driver tried to hook the rod back up to the wire after it came off. My daughter wondered what was going on. After I explained WHAT he was doing, and she asked why he was doing it. I told her that the buses run on the wires overhead. Again, she was delighted: “Tiny buses!”

    We had great fun with these kinds of things as she was growing up. Life is kind of boring now that she’s grown up and off living on her own across the country. My neurotypic husband doesn’t have a clue why I’m laughing hysterically over something that’s so obvious and mundane to him.

  24. otakuandrandom

    “Keep your eyes peeled” is one I like (I know someone said it already). This is kinda gross, but when I was little, me and my parents would grab our eyelids and hold them open when we used that phrase.

    Also, “it’s pie” or “easy as pie.” Look, it’s just that one friend of mine who makes it look easy to make pie.

  25. otakuandrandom

    OK, I just thought of some more.
    “I’m dying.” Or worse: “I’m literally dying.” Or worst of all: “I literally died.” Wow. Modern medicine is amazing.
    “Turn around.” All the way around?
    “Keep your eye on that” or “Keep your eyes right there.” I keep my eyes just fine inside my skull, thank you.
    “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 6 feet tall (or at least I did)
    An autistic friend of mine, who incidentally is really darn tall, had recently been weighed. “What were you when we weighed you?” his dad asked. “I was 11,” he said.
    “He’s in the doghouse.” I hope he’s warm enough out there.
    “Bring me a couple of those. No, more than that.” A couple is two. If you want two couples of something, just ask.
    “Eat half of the granola bars.” Half of each one?
    “Write her a letter .” Why would she want just one letter from me?
    “The rocket blew up.” How, if it doesn’t have lungs? Conversely: “Blow that balloon up.” Exploding balloons sounds like fun!

    • otakuandrandom

      OK, a couple more.

      “Blow up” could also be taken as “Blow in a vertical direction.”

      “Breathing down my neck.” Why would you be annoyed at someone trying to give you CPR?! (I have actually breathed on the backs of my parents’ necks just for fun. But I have never administered CPR or rescue breathing.)

      “Compose yourself.” I can’t even play the guitar!

      “Can you feel your toes?” Yes, even through my shoes!

      “Name the shapes.” (This was from a list of witty test answers. The little girl named them Bob, Same, Tedison, Cate, and Hary. And that was how she spelled them.)

      “We need to draw some blood.” Like Yana Toboso? (This was from a book about Amelia Bedelia, a fictional maid who always took things literally. I highly recommend those books.)

      “Glue yourself to your seat.” But just yesterday you told me not to ruin these pants.

      “Drink the whole cup.” If I melt the glass, it’ll be too hot.

      “Throw that away.” Hey, at you counts as away!

      My parents are hippies and buy hippie floss (all-natural, blah blah blah). Once I got some regular floss and it recommended using 18 inches. My mom was a bit miffed when I wanted to measure it.

      We were in a really hippie place and my dad said, “We’re the squares.” If I had to give us a shape, Dad, it would be rectangular. We’re only square(ish) if we curl up.

      • CaptainQuirk

        Haha, those are really good. 🙂 Can’t believe you came up with so many! Thanks for sharing.

  26. Tali

    I would just like to say that I had a near-physical reaction to the “eyes peeled” phrase and am now blinking repeatedly because my eyes feel funny, and the content of my current thoughts can best be described as “uuurrrgh”.

  27. Tali

    And also, my (also autistic) mother has a wonderful habit of getting idioms mixed up. She still sometimes thinks that “sharp as a button” is the correct phrase to denote someone with acute observational or intellectual capacities, and we once had the following conversation when my stepdad and I were trying to explain the correct phrases to her.

    Her (after much deliberation and our explanations of how the correct phrases were “bright as a button” and “sharp as a pin”, and how that actually made sense considering that while metal pins may be considered to be visually or physically bright, sharpness is not a trait traditionally associated with buttons): “No, ‘bright as a button’, it just sounds right to me.”

    (A brief pause ensues where we try to – figuratively speaking – wrap our heads around what just happened.)

    Us: “That IS the right one!”

    She then explained – and we worked out – that she had been trying so hard to think of which one was the “wrong” one that she had ended up thinking of the one that sounded wrong to HER… which was the correct one!

    Oh, how we all laughed. Never let it be said that us Aspies don’t know how to have fun.

  28. Naughty Autie

    When I was a kid, my dad would say that he was “going to see a man about a dog” whenever he didn’t want to tell me where he was going. I used to patiently for his return because I was expecting a new pet. Cruel b######. And what about ‘eye contact’? Imagine actually touching things with your eyes. Ew…

  29. tahrey

    The headline example works a lot better if you consider your “mind” to be an aggregate set of waveforms propagating through the squidgy mass of nervous tissue that is your *brain*. The latter can exist without the survival of the former, and although we’re as yet to figure out a way to achieve the reverse, consciousness expresses as a phalanx of electrical impulses (deliberately sidestepping, for now, any messy discussions about souls etc) suggests it may be possible. And those waves and impulses are rather easier to modify… indeed if we take it to the logical extreme, backing up your mind to different hardware suggests the same technology could be used to overwrite it with someone else’s, without the need for surgery… 😉

  30. Dillon Wilson

    It took me thirteen years to understand the joke: why is 6 afraid of seven?

  31. David A

    What’s up?
    I never knee how to respond to this for a long time. I used to have this expression!
    What’s up man?
    The dealing. The sky.
    It took years for me to figure out that you are not supposed to answer it like a question. It is just another way of saying, “Hello, how are you?”
    The only response people usually want to hear is: “Hi. How are you” “Hello”. Or, you just say the same thing, “What’s up”
    Those are the only things people expect you to say as a response to that. If you are walking past someone on the street and they say What’s up, just say hi and keep walking. They don’t expect you to stop and talk, unless they tell you they want to stop and talk.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this:
More in Autism/Asperger's, Everything
Asperger Syndrome: 50 important facts about having “mild” autism

On April 2nd this year, World Autism Awareness Day, I decided to offer a little insight to some of my Facebook...