Why do adults laugh when a child says something intelligent?

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Joined: 7 Mar 2005
Posts: 4,348
Location: United States

13 May 2010, 9:21 pm

As we all know, high intelligence is one of the key aspects of aspie children. When I was little (read: under age 13), due to lack of social skills, I didn't know better than to keep that intelligence to myself. So I talked about it to anyone who was willing to listen. This included family, friends, neighbors, teachers, instructors in lessons I took, my parents' friends, and even strangers on city buses who my parents got into a conversation with. I noticed one thing in common in all those situations: whenever I said something intelligent (like astronomy stuff, my obsession topic at the time), the adult(s) who was/were listening to me at the time laughed out loud in response! The laughter was especially blatant in people 45 and older. (For some reasons, 20-somethings only chuckled quietly and/or complimented me.) I found it extremely annoying, and never knew what to make of it.

My parents explained it to me that it was a "laughter of approval". I flat-out refused to believe it back then, and still have trouble believing it to this day (at age 27), although I can rationalize it at least a little bit. To me, "laughter" and "approval" are contradictions in terms, so the notion of approving anything by laughing at it is simply absurd. I interpreted it like this: the adults who laughed at me have a low opinion of children, and simply cannot accept the fact that a child would say something intellectual.

Now, on with the questions. Why would mature, rational adults laugh at me (or maybe with me, but I doubt it) when I talked about intellectual stuff as a child? What is it, exactly, so funny about a child talking about the composition of Saturn's rings (rock, dust, and ice, if you're wondering :) )? Also, how come 20-somethings reacted with at least some semblance of respect, while older adults just laughed out loud?

Since we're on the astronomy topic, here's a link to a video about what the sky would look like if Earth had rings like Saturn: http://www.universetoday.com/2009/11/20/what-if-earth-had-rings/. (The music there is too melodramatic for my taste, but the video is beautiful!)


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Joined: 1 Jun 2008
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13 May 2010, 9:52 pm

The best thing I can come up with is they laugh because it's unexpected and cute. That's all I've got :p


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Joined: 10 Mar 2008
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13 May 2010, 10:30 pm

I'm not sure if you could call me smart, but as a kid I was full of crap but very articulate about it. When going to someone's birthday party, I'd go to their parents and argue with them about politics as if I knew all the answers. I think I wanted to sound like an adult, but in any case adults found that very amusing.

I think what amuses adults is the contrast: on the one hand you're evidently not all grown up, while on the other hand you seem to be taking an active interest in certain things on a level only adults are. Using big words and rambling about your topic of interest only adds to the effect. There's a word for a lot of this: "precociousness", a figurative blossoming before the appearance of leaves. I suspect that a lot of people with AS were precocious children, studying odd things to mock-"serious adult" levels.

One person that comes to mind is Jonathan Krohn, a thirteen year-old American kid who earned fifteen minutes of fame as a young right-wing political commentator. He wrote a book on his vision of conservatism, defining conservatism for new generations - if he were an adult someone might consider it misguided, but as a kid it's just cute and I think a lot of people in the right-wing press were interested in the cuteness factor more than anything else. Right around the time Obama became President, he declared that "Barack Obama is the most left-wing president in my lifetime." Made me crack up, probably made a lot of people crack up as well, because of the contrast issue enhanced by the inherent ("...in my lifetime") reminder that this guy really is younger than most of us.


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Joined: 8 Oct 2008
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13 May 2010, 10:35 pm

The "20-somethings" as you called them are younger, so they would remember being a kid and saying something actually intelligent.

What is even more annoying than having an adult laugh when a kid says something intelligent, is having that same adult laugh when a teen nearly to their 20's says something intelligent. And trust me, this happened to me only a couple weeks ago! I started talking about how the if the government cut the law that gives all retired Congress members the current salary for congress for the rest of their life and made it so everyone paid the same percentage out of their paychecks for taxes(with the only deductions being for a single morgage or for a kid), we could pay off the national debt in under 5 years, the adult I was talking to, a close friend of the family, just laughed and said, "You're a teenager, what do you know about the government? And why would you care anyway, you're not going to have to worry about the national debt!" EXCUSE ME!?!?!? My generation is the one that will have to pay off the debt. And a teenager can certainly know about the government and the national debt!! What the heck do you think we learn in high school and college, how to be ignorant donkeys lead around by the nose?...Well, maybe in high school, but college. no.

Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt and live like it's heaven on Earth. -Mark Twain
If life gives you lemons, make grape juice, sit back and watch the world wonder how you did it.


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Joined: 11 Oct 2009
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Location: Idaho, USA

13 May 2010, 10:42 pm

I don't know. People *still* frequently laugh when I try to talk about serious topics so it might be something beyond astonishment at one's youth.

Few things I hate more than making a serious comment and getting, "oh, Sparrow! You're so FUNNY!" in response.

"In the end, we decide if we're remembered for what happened to us or for what we did with it."
-- Randy K. Milholland

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Joined: 14 Jun 2009
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Location: Sherbrooke,Québec, Canada

13 May 2010, 10:58 pm

Because it's cute. :wink:


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Joined: 2 Mar 2010
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Location: Sydney

13 May 2010, 11:33 pm

Many adults seem to think that children are brainless naive creatures, and react to hearing a child say something intelligent as though their pet dog had spoken.

They think it's a joke, because they don't take the child's intelligence seriously. They think it is simply unthinking rote knowledge - like a parrot "speaking" English.

They have this fixed idea that adults have understanding, and children don't, and they think it is funny when a child acts outside their designated role - like a child wearing a fake moustache. But they don't believe the child understands. Consequently, they often talk condescendingly to children.

I cannot see the point of "talking down" to children. Their interests are not always the same as most adults (but then, neither are my interests always the same as many NT adults) but they are often interested in learning things if they are explained in terms relevant to their understanding - and levels of understanding are personal: some children have better levels of understanding than some adults.

I hate it when adults condescend to children as merely "cute" toys.


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Joined: 23 Nov 2009
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13 May 2010, 11:38 pm

Nervous reaction, perhaps?

I love inciting laughter, particularly for things people don't admit they like to laugh about, if you catch me at the wrong time, you'd think I'm very racist, or misogynistic, or a psychopath, but it's just because extreme humor produces interesting forced responses.

Then when you tell people that, they joking ask "are you trying to say you study people like they were chimpanzees in a zoo?", and of course, I confirm that I do.

It's great to ask if they would like a banana for being so insightful.

As for astronomy, dude, did you know Jupiter's southern equatorial band disappeared?


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Joined: 10 Sep 2009
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13 May 2010, 11:44 pm

They might not have been laughing because you said something intellectual or intelligent.

They may have been laughing at you because you might have been completely off the original topic of conversation and you might have sounded odd going on about whatever intellectual stuff that seemed so important to you at the time.

I'll refer to a movie about someone with Aspergers. The film was Adam. There is a funny scene when Adam is sitting next to his friend on a park bench having lunch. Adam is going on and on about astronomy. Pretty intelligent stuff. His older, blue collar friend finally stops Adam and says something to the effect of "This is not lunch talk. Talk about women or sports or stuff like that!" It was a funny scene because Adam was going on and on about something that just was not interesting to the person who was talking to.

Perhaps they were laughing because it looked odd for someone who is obviously intelligent to be so oblivious (to the social situation) at the same time.

The younger people may have recognized better that you are an intelligent person with difficulty with social skills and have better understanding. The older people just thought it looked weird and laughed.

Not saying that this was a particularly polite thing to do. However, this is the reaction of some people when they see something different than what they are used to.


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Joined: 6 Apr 2009
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14 May 2010, 1:41 pm

Adults often act really shitty with kids 'in a friendly way'.

Taking their toys away and laughing, etc.

Once a friend of my mom's decided to start a 'play fight' with me (I was 10 I think) and shoved her hand into my larynx really hard. I complained that she hurt me and was told I was being rude. I still want her to die of cancer.

'You're so cold, but you feel alive
Lay your hands on me, one last time' (Breaking Benjamin)


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Joined: 17 Jul 2004
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14 May 2010, 1:44 pm

People think that it's cute to see a child, like that.

The darling, unworldly Mick Avory with hands like shovels, who wouldn't dare choose to hurt a soul: I'm the cuddly, adorable Kink. Sweet Peas: http://s76.photobucket.com/albums/j37/C ... 20Smileys/ Blog: http://ramblingsofasuccessfula


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Joined: 22 May 2009
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14 May 2010, 1:46 pm

I used to get this response as well, but I think that at least some of the time the adults were laughing because of a pleasant surprise... When I talked to a linguistics professor about consonant drift in European languages it made him happy to discover that somewhere in the world there was this weird kid who cared about something that had been his life's work. He was happy, plus surprised, and the two combined into laughter. It's not always a bad thing.


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Joined: 14 May 2008
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14 May 2010, 2:40 pm

Probably because they did not expect to hear adult thoughs coming from a child.

I would even interupt people speaking about said animal at zoos who were getting it wrong or not giving enough information. They were usualy too godsmacked to try and speak over me and let me go on.

I'm not weird, you're just too normal.


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Joined: 4 Feb 2010
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14 May 2010, 2:49 pm

When my mom tells a story about me from when I was six when I said about how it's unfair that the gov. can kill people and we can't. This was about politics on capital punishment because some guy in Texas was on death row and about to be executed. They were in the car with my uncle and one of their friends talking about it and I butt in going "They are going to kill him because he kill someone?" and they were like that's right and I said "I kill my uncle, the gov kills me" and they said that's how it works and I said it was unfair because why can he kill and we can't. They try and explain it to me but I keep saying how unfair it is and then they stop and realize "OMG, she is right." So when mom tells that story to people, they laugh about it.

Even back then I was arguing.


Joined: 18 Jun 2008
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14 May 2010, 3:36 pm

Unless things have changed, adults, generally aren't comfortable when children challenge their authority and knowing more than the adult can be percieved as both challenging and threatening. Adults want to know more than the kids, not the other way around, so when one kid seems like a know-it-all, adults will tolerate it at first, then start to get annoyed, sometimes being passive aggressive or sarcastic toward the kid.

Adults hated it when I asked questions they didn't have answers to.

Every once in a while they'll be a teacher or mentor who appreciates a kid who knows more than they do, but I haven't seen much of that around here. It might be considered rude or bad social skills to go on and on in a way that implies showing off.