Idioms and autism: how you NEVER “change your mind”

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?

“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

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).

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