Do ASD people not understand humour?

I've sort of been wondering about this but can't quite reach a conclusion. Do people on the autistic spectrum, so including Asbergers and autistic traits, not understand humour and then sometimes feel upset as a consequence?

My younger niece was diagnosed as having autistic traits and she doesn't understand most jokes. She can get upset about it rather quickly.

But then an older man I know who also has autistic traits is very funny when he wants to be and does understand others' humour.

So what's the deal in your experience or opinion?

koala xxx

36 Replies

  • Check out Browse communities (through My communities tab):

    Autism community here on site at healthunlocked.

  • What an interesting question, one I've never considered. Probably as I don't know anyone with the condition.

    Lynne xx

  • Hi Lynne

    Yes it's fascinating really. I think it could sometimes maybe be connected to an overly literal interpretation of everything.

    Of course you can't ask the person about it because how does "one" know you don't understand a joke if you don't feel or understand that experience? It can be observed of course, but is it a "symptom" of what is diagnosed under ASD? There is a correlation in some way I'd have thought.

    Quick to be upset or angered seems to be part of it all too, but I can sort of imagine why because if you don't understand something while the others are all laughing, then it wouldn't feel good.

    koala xxx

  • I can relate to this koala, since my son has this condition but I am finding that with just gently and gradually introducing small bites of humour, he is starting to appreciate it :) Excellent question by the way. xxx

  • How interesting, so it sounds as if he is learning it gradually whereas it is usually an inbuilt thing.

    koala xxxx

  • It is an ongoing process with him, maybe I am just wish fulfilling, but yes I see glimmers of it xxx

  • Having worked with autistic people, children and adults expression is very much an individual thing. An appreciation of such an understanding would be helpful in any situation.

    With regarding to humour, autistic people are the same as non autistic people, in that not all enjoy the same type of humour as any worldly person would know. But then often is the case that those who appreciate a certain kind of humour will gravitate towards each other and in some cases this can create cliques.

    However getting back to your interest in autism, I would think you will get a lot more answers to your enquiry if you visit the healthunlocked support group for Autism:-


    Incidently some autistic people are highly intelligent and fascinating to work with in addition there are many famous people with autism or autistic characteristics. Some of them are Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Beethoven, Van Gogh ...

    Hope this information is helpful to you in understand just a little about Autism.

    I do strongly urge you to visit the Autism support group to continue this type of discussion, you are bound to appreciate a broader spectrum about Autism than you are likely to in a lung support group.

  • I am highly offended and hurt that as the mother of a 27 year old daughter who is very severley Autistic, that you BC have chosen this post to use as an excuse to bang on about your own experiences of humour This question it may suprise you was nothing to do with you but was a genuine question in attempt to find help, in this field You say you have worked with Autistics in which case you would know this has been long regarded as one of the most difficult conditions for parents or carers to cope with, we need support not people like you who have used it for there own personal campaign. Good grief words fail me entirley, selfish beyond words. You critise Koala (Who I note you gave a difficult time to even on the day of her father in laws funeral ) for posting this on a non autistic website yet there was several mentions of another illness recently not lung related (I know because I read them) and you did not complain then or when other non lung related topics have been discussed How you can take some one elses pain and difficulty in coping with this condition to further your own ego is beyond me Using autistics to bully people is not big or clever. You seem to be under the illusion this site is here for you and you alone. Please just grow up and learn to think before you comment. If you knew how difficult life was with a severly autistic child maybe you would. By the way your own blog later on is not health related either just another nasty attempt to hurt people

  • Lovemelovemydogs xxxxx

    I am sorry to hear that your daughter is severely autistic. My sister's daughter has it mildly, but it has put immense strain on the family and my sister has stopped work because of it and is on anti-depressants. I wish you and your daughter all the very best. xxxxx

    I agree with your post, you express how I feel too.

    koala xxxx

  • My daughter's friend had a little girl who had autism; everything in her world was literal, so if you said it was raining cats & dogs that's what she would expect to see falling from the sky, and she was very logical - why would you say such a thing if it wasn't true? This makes it difficult to navigate daily life with the rest of us - also I understand that many with autism find it very difficult to 'read' facial expressions, and really don't 'get'sarcasm, where the intention of the words + facial expression just don't add up. Must be lonely to be outside the 'club' in that way.

  • Yes, that sounds like my niece, we always have to make sure what we say can be taken literally, so no idioms or anything.

    Facial expressions, absolutely, and emotional intuition in others. Life must be even more of a puzzle than it is for the rest of us.

    I agree, it must be lonely, also frustrating. I was told that depression is higher in that population than in non autistic people. A life without humour doesn't appeal to me though, I need a good laugh.

    koala xxx

  • What a thought provoking question. Everybody's idea of humour seems to vary a lot. I love puns but I know a lot of people who just don't 'get' them. Then there are those who think slapstick is hilarious, but it leaves me cold. I always used to think alternative comedy was very well named - i.e. not funny. I can understand why people get upset if they don't understand a joke though; I remember my parents laughing at jokes when I was a child and I always felt stupid because I didn't know what they were laughing at.

  • Humour does seem to vary so much doesn't it? Like you said between age groups, and I have also seen how it is culture bound too - I know it's sometimes said that Germans haven't got a sense of humour, but actually I have had a lot of laughs with Germans over the years. They prefer not to laugh at themselves, whereas in Britain we do do that, but they can certainly be hilarious at times (deliberately I mean).

    koala xxx

  • Wow you learn something everyday, check out what is said on the autism network about non autistic humour - seen a bit of what they are describing on this site already. Told ya they were clever :)

  • Have to add though, the statement they make about non autistic humour is also a generalisation as yours was about autism koala .

    Of course that statement doesn't apply to all as your doesn't

  • Which generalisation I made about autism?

    I believe I posed a question along with two examples, one demonstrating a lack of comprehension of humour, and the other in contrast to that saying the person diagnosed autistic does understand humour.

    A question is not a statement.

  • Your comment to Lynne


    Hi Lynne

    Yes it's fascinating really. I think it could sometimes maybe be connected to an overly literal interpretation of everything.

    Of course you can't ask the person about it because how does "one" know you don't understand a joke if you don't feel or understand that experience? It can be observed of course, but is it a "symptom" of what is diagnosed under ASD? There is a correlation in some way I'd have thought.


    Quick to be upset or angered seems to be part of it all too, but I can sort of imagine why because if you don't understand something while the others are all laughing, then it wouldn't feel good.



    You seem to be assuming what you think is factual but of course it isn't. especially relating to the para outlined - Quick to be upset or angered.

    This is a generalisation.

    I really do think the best place to find out more to help in your understanding is the autism support group.

  • My wife - the one who works in a school - says that in her experience both autism and Aspergers cover a very wide spectrum. Some sufferers understand humour and some don't It is almost impossible to generalise in her opinion.


  • What an excellent comment Bobby.

  • Thank you Blakey


  • Bobby,

    But we can at least ascertain from your wife's experience that a lack of understanding of (some types of) humour can indeed be a "symptom" of autism then. That was my question :-)

    Clearly it is a wide spectrum, and in my opinion a certain number of people diagnosed on it probably have other neuro issues simply lumped into ASD because not enough is known yet to differentiate.

    All things are on a continuum really.

    Thanks for your input :-)

    koala xxx

  • Hi Bobby xxx

    I have been thinking about this over my bowl of ice cream and maltesers :-) :

    how can it really be wrong to want to find out if something is a symptom of a diagnosis or not ie that it is due to the diagnosed thing rather than simply a person's character or due to a different medical issue.

    I mean in order to do that, you do (perhaps unfortunately) have to generalise at least at some point in the process.

    Another example could be, "Do asthmatics have mucousy coughs?"

    Would people reply to that that we are all individuals, or that it is impossible to generalise?.

    I sort of expect people wouldn't, I expect they'd say something like, "some do, some don't", or, "it depends on whether their corticosteroid sprays are working or not" or something along those lines. They might also say, yes, it can be a symptom.

    So, I am fully aware that each person is an individual but I am also aware that illnesses, conditions etc have symptoms that can indeed be generalised.

    I wanted to find out whether the lack of understanding of humour is truly apparent in people with an autism diagnosis, and I was hoping to hear from people with friends and family members with it.

    I didn't really want advice that we are all individuals and we shouldn't generalise, because isn't reaching a diagnosis just that? by that I mean seeing that someone fits the criteria.


    koala xxx

  • Seriously though I do think this should be a discussion for the autism support group, there will be parents and carers who will be able to advise you on any mis-understanding you may have and more to the point you will be able to hear directy from an autistic persons view point on humour. As phillips1 mentions, not all people with autism and Aspergers will be the same, precisely as not all people are the same. We are all individuals regardless.

  • Koala I will try to answer from my own personal experience if I may. I find this is often better than website links My beautiful daughter is severley autistic, and was diagnosed 22 years ago at the age of 5 at a time when Autism was not being recognised by most in the medical and health fields. She was left severley brain damaged and autistic after a serious bout of pneumonia which nearly took her life as a 6 week old baby. We as did most people in those days had to pay to see a specialist in this field who diagnosed her. Having spent the last 27 years in the world of autism I have learnt the most important thing to remember is that the condition varys widley in severity some have it mildly and can cope and understand jokes perfectly well and also read facial expressions, while others like my daughter cannot understand jokes or read facial expressions at all, it is for this reason that many autistics cannot tell lies as they take every thing they see literally so therefore would not think of composing lies to get out of a situation. However although shelley cannot understand jokes, it is very evident she does possess some form of a sense of humour as very often she does little things that are a bit cheeky and when she gets a response she giggles for example pressing the bell for the night staff to come to see her when she does not want or need any thing usually makes her laugh. I think its best to treat each autistic as an individual and learn what traits of autism they may or may not have. I hope this helps a bit. Sorry for my rant above but I am fiercly protective of her and her friends my husband has spent 10 years of his life introducing a educational teaching method into schools for autistics opening up 2 care homes for adults and basically educating people in the condition before he was left disabled, so when I see some one like BC use it for their own personal crusade i am just mortified. If I can be of any further help at any time please let me know Love Julie xx xx xx

  • Thank you so much for your reply and for your response higher in the thread too. Thank you so much for telling me about your daughter.

    I must say, I also feel shocked and taken aback by the continuous vicious attack by BlakeyC towards me throughout this entire thread for posing this question, which is of personal interest to me and my family.

    My niece's autism was obvious from birth, she screamed the house down, was stubborn and didn't behave "normally" At kindergarten she had a terrible time.

    At school, she declared that she is a boy, luckily the school lets her wear the boys' uniform. She has no friends and would rather play with the insects and slugs she finds outside. She is just like a boy in every way, but an autistic boy. She insults females, and says things like "I hate pink, that's what girls wear" with derogatory intonation on the "girls".

    I expect the gender issue could be a separate thing and is not something I want to ask here, but autism being fairly common, I knew some of us could share our experiences, and humour is also something my niece really doesn't understand.

    She is now 9 and my sister has given up. My sister left her job and has let herself go, she is overwhelmed.

    I posed the original question with two supporting examples illustrating both situations. I was hoping for a good exchange of experiences. it saddens me that BlakeyC turned this into an angry rant.

    Luckily, I truly believe there are those of us here who simply want to talk about it in a nice way.

    Thank you to everyone who replied with helpful posts. And a big thank you to Julie xxxx

  • I forgot to say, my niece was known as the naughtiest child in the school. My sister was devastated by that as she knew her daughter wasn't being deliberately naughty and took her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed autistic traits.


  • I sympathise greatly with your sister. I too ended up on anti depressants because of the stress. I would go days on end existing on only an hours sleep as she had no sleep pattern and cried constantly she refused to eat anything but weetabix or sandwiches as a toddler and we were worried sick about her, she had to leave 2 special schools as she has autism and cerebal palsy and they could not cope with an autistic in a wheel chair. Thanks for your reply, please give your sister and niece my best wishes. Its the hardest thing to cope with autism, i still find it hard 27 years on that she will not let us kiss or hug her as its a mothers natural instinct isnt it. Take care love Julie xx xx xx

  • The eating thing is awful. (((((hugs)))))). My niece is also incredibly fussy, about the only thing she will eat is sausages, and after trying to convince her otherwise for ages, she does in fact live on sausages now and my sister thinks that at least she's getting protein and calories that way. She screams if she has to eat anything else, and her scream is ear shattering.

    I can imagine it is dreadfully difficult to cope with. And there is no end to it either.

    I am so sorry the schools couldn't accommodate your daughter as they should have done. A wheelchair is an extra thing for you to deal with, putting it into the car and everything, and helping your daughter around. My niece is physically sort of "normal" but very, very clumsy and she had tongue tie so her speech isn't always clear.

    Thank you so much for your replies, it is wonderful to chat to you about this. I expect that humour is only a tiny thing in comparison to the problems you and your daughter face, but having said that, it is also sometimes a way of coping with hardship and distress.

    All my love,

    koala xxxx

  • As a schoolchild I sat in a class of 44 children. There was no ADHD, no autism, no Aspergers and none of the other mental problems. Or was there?

    There were certainly problem kids who got whacked regularly. But were they, in reality, suffering from one of the above?

    Today we know of all these things because they are recognised as an illness early on in a child's life and teachers are trained to pick these things up early. The child then usually receives the best treatment we can give in the light of our current knowledge.

    I think it will be many years before we have all the answers. In the meantime we can only blunder on doing our best for our children. To those of you who have troubled children I send my love and my very best wishes for the future.

    Bobby xxx

  • Those diagnoses were unheard of when I was at school in the 70s and 80s too, but why that is is another massive unknown. Is it better diagnosed now, is it because of chemicals, plastics, oestrogens, etc etc ?

    It can only be a good thing if we all think about it and discuss it though, can't it? Stigma leads to avoidance, openness has to be better. Same with other brain things too like mental illness and so on, I am against stigma, why can't we all discuss it, it shouldn't be marginalised or pushed aside.

    But none of that is why I asked my original question, this whole thread unfortunately sort of got derailed by protests. Against what I'm not sure and don't want to know. Let's hope from now on we can all chat nicely and swap experiences.

    koala xxxx

  • Thank you so much Bobby that means a lot. and to Koala too I cannot tell you how much it helps having some one who understands Love Julie xxxxx xxx xxxx xx xx

  • Big hug for you, Julie xxxxx

    koala xxxx

  • My son is 22 and has Aspergers with ADHD, terrible combination for any one person. Also has a bit of dispraxia thrown in. When he was younger he struggled with humour, didn't understand why people laughed at certain things. But, when he tried using humour himself he would tell the joke, then tell the joke then tell the joke until it lost all humour.. at 22 he's learnt some, understands a bit more, can get a joke and can't. I myself am the same, some jokes I understand others I don't but isn't others like that sometimes? Some do some don't? My only worry with my son really is work. No-one wants to employ him and if he did get employed he would soon lose the job. Doesn't help with DWP and they won't help him because he won't use his Aspergers as an excuse. He's happy to tell people he has ADHD but not Aspergers. Why, who knows, I think alot of it has to do with when he was younger and school and bullying. He's a good kid but scattered and doesn't think about his actions. i.e. if I want to rev that bike at 10 pm then yes I will. Neighbours hate him with a vengeance and have tried many times to have us booted out of our rented property, have even insuated that my sons disability is all false even though medical records prove otherwise. Doesn't matter what he does they report him to council, housing association and police on a constant basis. I have an ASBO because he revved a bike up on my property and they didn't like it. Now, he takes his bike to a friends to fix and tinker and they've started reporting him for that on his friends street. same people, her dad lives on same street. I fear they will win but its their lack of understanding that makes me so angry. The boy can't even have a melt down without them calling police. No wonder I have a heart condition now with the stress he causes without realising and my neighbours lack of understanding..

  • Hi Eviex

    Thanks for sharing, I'm sorry to hear of the huge problems you too have been and are facing.

    I'm also sorry to hear of the added stress you are suffering on top of everything else. The intolerance from others is particularly heart destroying because it should be avoidable!

    My sister's neighbours on one side also hate my niece, saying things like what a dreadful unruly child etc. They didn't complain to the council about her, but complained about the family dog supposedly making such a noise, which he doesn't. They just wanted to complain. Luckily the council investigated the complaint thoroughly and sided with my sister.

    I think your post demonstrates how terribly stressful it can be to have a family member, maybe particularly child, on the autistic spectrum. It might not be politically correct to admit it, but sadly, the truth of it is that it can make the parents ill.

    Interesting what you said about your son's way of repeating the same joke over and over, that's what my niece does too (sometimes, on the whole she doesn't seem to use humour at all).

    Work must be a huge worry, I hope it goes well for him. My niece is only 9 so work is not the immediate issue but of course will be later on.

    It seems unfortunate that because your son doesn't want to use his Asberger's diagnosis that this works against him in the search for a job. I have had students who were clearly on the spectrum (I teach English academic skills to Germans, mostly engineers) and their social skills stand out very quickly as being different so I'd hope that employers would also see and understand what was behind your son's behaviour. What I mean with my students is, for example, that the person might not stop talking despite others yawning - they are oblivious to hints like that.

    The entire autism "thing" is so complex and there seem to be so many "symptoms" and factors, but in every case I have read about until now, the parents have a very, very difficult time.

    All the best to you and your son xxxxx

    koala x

  • Thankyou, life is difficult but on the whole, worth it x

  • I really agree


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