Abstract: Who’s Missing the Point? A Commentary on Claims that Autistic Persons Have a Specific Deficit in Figurative Language Comprehension

GERNSBACHER, M. A., & PRIPAS-KAPIT, S. (2012). Who’s missing the point? A commentary on claims that autistic persons have a specific deficit in figurative language comprehension. Metaphor & Symbol, 27, 93–105.
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It’s become a caricature of autistic persons that they don’t understand figurative language. Despite empirical evidence to the contrary, three of the four contributions to this special issue endorse this stereotype without question. And all four contributions attribute this supposed deficit to even shakier fallacies, such as the controversial claim that autistic people lack empathy or a ‘theory of mind.’ In this commentary, we begin by reviewing the literature more exhaustively than the other contributions, and we highlight a point that they missed: Autistic persons are likely to have difficulty comprehending figurative language if they also have difficulty comprehending language in general. There doesn’t seem to be a specific deficit in figurative language unique to autism. We also tackle the claim that autistic people lack empathy. And we question the existence of a ‘theory of mind area,’ while demonstrating the pitfalls that ensnarl researchers when they strain to interpret differences between autistic and non-autistic brain activity as solely autistic deficits.