Autism and understanding inferences

Stephen McHugh
This post was last updated on
August 19, 2022

Inferences can be pieces of written text and illustrations in stories from which one can draw conclusions about what is going on in the stories themselves. We can also make guesses regarding what other events may be going on. 

Autism and making inferencesPin

For those of us with autism and language development delays, inferences can present more of a problem. 

Inferencing skills may be useful when it comes to working out how characters are being presented in the story, including how they may be feeling, and what they may be like too. 

It can be possible to work out another person’s feelings and their ways of thinking by studying their body language, including any facial expressions and voice tones. And one common difficulty faced by those of us with autism is trying to understand other people’s emotions. 

During my days in junior school, I admit to never having heard of the word ‘inferences’, let alone understanding what they were. My reading test marks were considerably lower than the average scores in my class at school, and my difficulty with inferences partly accounted for this. I also believe this to have been a reason why I found it difficult to follow and understand stories. 

And just in case you didn’t know, my vocabulary was, more often than not, very limited. I was admittedly in my own world at times, and experienced language development delays too.

As I got older, my language development and ability to understand improved. In an earlier blog post about how autistic people can learn to understand metaphors, I talk about how I think this may have happened by mentioning how connections between various parts of the brain can become more established over time. 

Below are my tips for trying to understand inferences

  • Reading the text from, or listening to a story.
  • By studying other evidence such as any illustrations or watching any films/programmes related to any stories on television.
  • Thinking about knowledge gained from any past memorable experiences of everyday life.

Take a look at the image below.

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It contains a boy who’s supposedly found out his exam results. Why not encourage a child to have a go at answering them.

In addition, there is a picture. I have done my own writing to describe it in my own way. Try to imagine the picture is not there, and there is only my writing. Consider the following questions. What season might it be? What time of day might it be? Why?

My answers to these will be at the end of this post. However, one must try to have a go at answering them before looking at my solutions at the end of the post.

As we can see, the image also contains a boy who’s supposedly found out his exam results. Why not encourage a child to have a go at answering the questions in the image itself.

In addition, there is a picture. I have done my own writing to describe it in my own way. Try to imagine the picture is not there, and there is only my writing. Consider the following questions. What season might it be? What time of day might it be? Why?

My answers to these will be at the end of this post. However, one must try to have a go at answering them before looking at the answers themselves.

My recommended activities

Reading through books, comics, and magazines, or any other literature for any suitable pictures or illustrations. 

Making up and telling short stories of your own.  This can also be one way of getting a child interested in reading and writing

By using these approaches, one should study texts and images closely, and consider such things like, but not limited to:

  • Characters’ feelings and possible reasons for them.
  • What characters might be doing.
  • Where characters might be going.
  • What the weather might be like.
  • What their environment may be like.

By doing games such as quizzes. When trying to work with me on trying to improve my knowledge of phonics, my mum did this using the format of a favourite quiz programme of mine at the time. Looking back, I found this very beneficial and rather addictive. This approach, I found through my own experiences here, can therefore be useful in terms of getting a child to cooperate more.

Other information

Nurture Gnomes 

Here on this website of Nurture Gnomes, you’ll find a range of products that can aid with understanding emotions and developing good social and communication skills by having opportunities to play games together, including card games. 

Cards can be used by children to express how they feel, something which I had difficulty doing. This approach can be useful for visual learners, of which I was one.

Answers to questions regarding the image with the blue background

The boy must be feeling happy as he must have passed all of his exams.

I’d say the season in the picture could be summer.  The sea appears to be calm and still. Based on my experiences, you are more likely to see more turbulent seas during the autumn and winter months, when there can be more in the way of stormy weather.

The time of day on the beach may be early in the morning, as the sun is still close to the horizon. Plus there are no people to be seen swimming in the sea or on the sand. 

You could also try and imagine the picture isn’t there. If that was the case the mentioning of sea and sand should indicate to one that the setting being talked about is a beach. 


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