At a recent school meeting about equity and institutional racism, one of my colleagues shared that a college professor once told him, “You carry with you a backpack of white privilege that affects every aspect of your life.” Conversation continued from there until I accidentally brought things to a screeching halt.
I said, “Wait, wait, wait. Your backpack – is it figurative?”
Mind you, some ten or more minutes had elapsed by this point; ten minutes had passed in which I had confusedly been trying to visualize exactly what aspect about my colleague’s backpack could have denoted white privilege. What kind of awesome backpack must that have been? I had no idea what anyone was even talking about anymore when I piped up. Obviously they had moved on because it took a moment before my colleague affirmed my suspicion.
It took me ten minutes to even consider the possibility that the backpack was a metaphor. Yeah.
It doesn’t matter your age or level of intelligence; some aspects of ASD will always stick with a person. For me, literalness is a serious challenge. My wife’s favorite example of this comes from a conversation we once had about her father overcoming alcoholism.
Her: “One day, he just threw the beer cans in the trash and never touched one again.”
Me: “Just like that? He was able to just quit?”
Her: “Yup. He quit cold turkey.”
Me: “What? Eating turkey made him want to drink?”
Her: “Wait, what?” Before laughing at the sudden realization of what I heard.
Something like this happens every couple of weeks. You’d think the world would start running out of figurative expressions and metaphors after a while, but there seems to be an endless amount of them. In my world, however, metaphors make no sense. They are lies, in essence. Similes are fine. “Her eyes were like polished emeralds reflecting the pale moonlight.” That’s fine and dandy. “Her eyes were polished emeralds reflecting in the moonlight.” That’s comical.
The moral? Next time you use an expression like, “Get out of here!” to express surprise or disbelief to a child or student on the spectrum, don’t get upset with them when they bolt from the room. After all, they are wearing a figurative backpack of literalness, and it affects every aspect of their lives.
backpack image by Mobile Edge Laptop Cases on Flickr