What’s So Funny? Identifying Humor in Children with Autism

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Amanda Frye, M.S., LABA, BCBA                             

[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on March 28, 2024.]

According to Cambridge Dictionary, humor is “The ability to be amused by something seen, heard, or thought about, sometimes causing you to smile or laugh, or the quality in something that causes such amusement.” This definition of humor is very inclusive of all people – including those diagnosed with autism.

There is an outdated myth that autistic individuals do not have a sense of humor. This is simply untrue.

All of us have a sense of humor that is individualized and built from our own preferences, experiences, and interpretation of the world around us. It makes everyday life more enjoyable. Although humor may be different for everyone, understanding the humor of the people you care about can be an important part of building rapport and relationships with them. 

Some signs that may indicate an autistic child finds something humorous could be laughter, a smile, vocalizations specific to that child, or simply continued or repeated engagement in or with a certain activity. If a child is displaying any of these signs, you may want to join them in the activity and try to become a part of the joke. This could strengthen their interest in social interactions, build your understanding of their interests and preferences, and create fun experiences with the child. 

There may be times when a child with autism appears to experience humor in a manner or at a time that others may consider inappropriate or socially unacceptable. Such moments may be an opportunity to identify what part of the situation they find amusing and use that information to identify more appropriate moments for that type of amusement to occur.

For example, the child might seem to think it’s funny to be reprimanded for breaking a rule. This indicates that they might enjoy negative attention or the way the angry emotion was displayed. This information can guide future interactions with the child. He or she might appreciate positive messages when delivered in negative tones, or even find the same amount of amusement from another animated emotion.

Just like the rest of us, each child with autism has a unique sense of humor. One might find humor in telling jokes with peers, and another might find humor in physical interactions such as tickling. A third may be amused by watching cartoons, and another may laugh when they see someone wearing a silly hat. The possibilities are endless! Regardless of what an autistic child finds to be most amusing, those interests bring so much value to day-to-day activities.

For guidance specific to your child, please contact a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, for consultation.

Amanda Frye, M.S., LABA, BCBA, is Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit