How to Handle Multiple Meanings

Starting after second grade, authors make use of words can have more than one meaning, in their writing.

Authors write with these multiple-meaning words or use literary devices, and figurative language to express the more complex thoughts in advanced texts.

For the student on the autism spectrum, this beautiful diction can be a minefield of misunderstanding, without the proper supports. Because of issues with weak central coherence and prosody, understanding the semantics (meaning) and pragmatics (social meaning) of language can be cumbersome. However, many strategies can support students’ comprehension of figurative language.

First, Vocabularians (2015) recommends using word gradient charts (p. 98) to support a student’ learning that there are multiple ways of expressing a concept, chosen specific to the context in which the vocabulary word is located. The example below can be found at:


Many students, but especially those with ASD do not realize that a word such as “walk” connotes different things, depending upon the context of how it is used.

If I walk slowly, I could more accurately describe it as lumbered or trudged. These more precise verbs carry a stronger, clearer meaning. Likewise, having learners practice with analogy types and examples will explicitly reveal to students how words can be used in different ways, which will affect their meaning.

Many teachers have explicit lessons for teaching similes, metaphors, allusions and other literary devices. Recognizing and understanding why an author uses each of these devices to communicate their meaning requires repeated, guided practice. In earlier grades, idiom practice is popular.

Children’s books like Denise Brennan-Nelson’s My Momma Likes to Say (2003) and My Teacher Likes to Say (2004), by Denise Brennan-Nelson, and In a Pickle: and Other Funny Idioms (1983), by Marvin Terban explain the meaning of the phrase, as well as a history of how the phrase came into being.

These books can support students’ learning and understanding of idioms commonly used in language and writing.

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