He’s Actually Joking.

All summer, I have been wondering if I’ve misjudged Shane. Maybe “disorder” doesn’t suit him at all.

While many characteristics of a nonverbal learning disorder still fit him, they are all positive attributes. He has a fantastic memory with exact recall in many instances. He’s highly skilled in reading and writing. And he’s got a tendency to take things very, very literally.

He takes things literally even when common sense dictates otherwise. That’s what worried me.

I keep thinking about the time that Shane was “helping” Bill change a light bulb in the garage. Bill handed Shane the old light bulb and said, “Just toss that over there.” And Shane tossed the light bulb in that general direction, causing the light bulb to shatter into a billion pieces on the garage floor.

When someone takes something that literally, doesn’t that mean there’s a problem? Nonverbal Learning Disorder seemed to nail it – a minor issue, but one that explained Shane’s inability to discern for himself that the light bulb would break if he “tossed” it.


I’ve spent a ton of time with Shane this summer, and we’ve talked a lot. He is incredibly funny with a very dry wit. Lately, he’s also started memorizing very bad jokes – and sharing them in spite of my resistance. (This isn’t why he’s funny.)

Most interesting, Shane has been starting to figure out things that, in the past, would have completely baffled him. And he’s admitted to me that he knows more than I thought.

Shane recently said, “Whenever I say things that sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s when I’m kidding.”

Just the fact that he can identify and tell me when he’s kidding is new. He used to say, “I don’t really mean to be funny.” But now he is recognizing how his sense of humor is making others laugh.

For example, I might say, “I’ve been on the computer since 8:00. It’s the only thing I’ve done all day.”

And Shane might respond with, “You did a lot more than that today, Mom. You sat on a chair, too.”

A year ago, I would have explained to Shane that the word “only” in my sentence wasn’t meant to be taken literally. And he would have said, “But you did sit on a chair.” It would have required additional explanation about how sitting was implied in my original statement.

But some time has passed, and Shane now admits that these kinds of statements are just jokes. And he admits it honestly – not as if he’s trying to cover his tracks. He’s actually joking. It’s just in such a dry-witted way that many people might miss the joke.

In fact, many people do miss the joke. And the “why” of that is very hard to explain to Shane. But he is starting to understand that, too.

He’s still concerned that I don’t always use verbatim quotes in my blog posts. When I explained the nature of “creative nonfiction,” Shane surprised me again.

Shane said, “Actually, as soon as we hear something, our brains take the words and filter them. So no one can remember exactly what people say, just the way they said it.”

He’s right, of course.

But just his knowing the difference between exact and vague, and his knowing the difference between literal and figurative… This is new, and something I haven’t seen from Shane in years past.

He’s figuring out the way words work, and responding appropriately, and putting it all together into a cohesive, manageable format in his head.

He’s doing it – and it’s awesome.

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