Mette Harrison
4 min readJun 21, 2022

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Why Autists Don’t Get Jokes

Many neurotypical people assume that autists lack a sense of humor. This is not usually the case. What is actually the problem is that context is necessary to understand the joke and autists often do not have the socially grounding to gather context to make sense of the joke. There are a variety of factors that play into this. When I was a teen, I learned to laugh at jokes that other people made because I could tell from the timing of the words that it was intended to be a joke. But I often didn’t listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows or movies, or know the same people to make sense of a joke.

As an adult, I still struggle with the same problems. One way to explain autism to other people is to describe how very little “FOMO” I experience. I don’t watch shows that other people watch just to have a shared framework to discuss those shows. I don’t anticipate the new episode dropping because I don’t experience the excitement that comes from that social experience. This means I’m often watching TV shows a decade or more later (I spent most of 2020 watching Gray’s Anatomy, for instance) and had no one to talk to about it — but luckily didn’t really have any need to do that.

As a teen in the 1980s, I watched a lot of Star Trek, as well as the old version of the British sf show Doctor Who. There were very few people to share conversations with about these shows and if I made a joke about those shows, there was no one to laugh at it with me. If a joke falls flat a forest, is it really funny? My autistic brain says yes, but maybe not in the social world of neurotypical people.

I still don’t really pay attention to what is currently “hot” in terms of media. I don’t follow personalities on social media and have to be sent screenshots to get what is going on. This can be very tedious for friends or family members who always have to explain the context of the joke to me. I could work harder at this, but honestly, I just don’t care enough about understanding normal jokes to put in the time and effort that it would require. Before you blame this problem on me, however, I would point out that most people don’t do that work to get my jokes, either. Other nerdy autists who have the same interests do laugh at my jokes, so I suspect that I do understand how jokes are made.

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Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained