(Not) a Little Slow

There is a moment I dread in conversations with strangers: the moment when that stranger–that person I’ve been talking to for a minute or two or five–decides I’m “a little slow.”

It doesn’t happen with every stranger, but it happens often enough that I can pinpoint the moment a conversation turns. To start, we’re both on our best interacting-with-a-stranger behavior, a bit wary, a bit too friendly, whatever. Then I slip. I miss some key bit of information, ask the other person to repeat something one too many times, stutter, backtrack, repeat myself, interrupt  again, lose the thread of the conversation, take a joke literally, perseverate. There are a lot of ways it could play out.

The response–the one that makes my skin heat up and my heart race and the blood in my ears pound–is subtle but sudden.

A note of condescension slips into the other person’s voice. I  may suck at reading body language, but I’m pretty good at gauging voice tone. Maybe they start speaking more slowly or repeating themselves. They downgrade their vocabulary to smaller words. They repeatedly ask questions like, “are you following me?” and “does that make sense?” They get pedantic, having decided I require some sort of instruction.

In short, they’ve decided I’m a little slow on the uptake.

At the first sign of this shift, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve been categorized by this person who knows next to nothing about me and is forming an opinion based on my spotty verbal skills, tallying them up with my inconsistent eye contact and my incongruent body language and all the other ways my body says “not like you.”

Am I Slow?

Literally speaking, I guess I am.  My verbal processing–both receptive and expressive–is impaired to the point that I often need more time than the average person to understand or respond to someone.

I have all sorts of communication glitches. I struggle with verbal instructions. If there’s background noise or other distractions, my auditory processing lags to the point that it can take a few seconds to process speech from noise into words. My verbal responses default to scripts–sometimes not even the right scripts–or become minimal when the conversation takes an unexpected turn, moves too fast or is too unstructured.

There is a significant disconnect between my verbal skills and my intelligence or literacy or whatever you want to call it.

In short, I look better on paper. If I was a shelter pup, there would be a note in my file that said, “Does not show well.”

Generally, this isn’t a problem for me. I’ve engineered my work life so that I first “meet” people via email or some other text-based correspondence. By the time we talk on the phone or meet in person, the other person has (hopefully) formed an opinion of me that will withstand some verbal glitching.

I’ve gravitated toward text-based medium in general, spending my days working primarily with the written word. Still, I have to do things like go to the doctor, contact the super in my building for repairs, and navigate the university records office to correct my transcript–all situations in which I’ve encountered the dreaded conversation shift. Situations in which I went from feeling like I was on equal footing with another adult to feeling patronized, belittled or ignored.

And here’s the thing: I am an adult. Whether I speak eloquently and fluently or not, I’m still an adult. My ability to communicate verbally has no impact on my ability to understand the way a ground fault interrupter works or what the risk factors for breast cancer are or how to read my college transcript. I don’t need to have these things explained to me like I’m a child.

What do I need, you might be thinking? My wishlist:

  1. Treat me like a competent adult.

  2. Be patient. I might need a little extra time to compose my answer or to process what you’ve said.

  3. If I ask for clarification, try explaining in a different way. If I didn’t understand the way you explained the first time, an exact repetition probably won’t help.

  4. Assume that if I don’t understand something, I’ll say so.

  5. Don’t rely on my body language or other typical cues for feedback about whether I understand what you’re saying. Unless you’re also autistic or know me very well, you probably can’t read my body language any better than I can read yours.

  6. Give me time to write down key information if I need to.

  7. Don’t oversimplify your language or speak unusually slowly or loudly.

  8. If you’re giving me verbal instructions, break them down into specific steps and explain one step at a time.

  9. If I keep repeating a question or statement, I need a stronger acknowledgement that you’ve heard and understood me.

  10. Treat me like a competent adult.

Some of the stuff on that list comes under the heading of accommodations. These are things I have to ask for because they are outside the norm and others may not know that I find them helpful.

But some of it–like #1 and #7–those should be the bare minimum we can expect when interacting with other adults, regardless of how typically or atypically we present.

116 thoughts on “(Not) a Little Slow”

  1. You are so wonderful! I just want you to know that. I love this post. Thank you. I’m sharing and printing this list out. This list IS universal and can be applied to any and all disability and even anyone who struggles with language, even if only because it isn’t their native language. My father was treated as “less than” simply because he was in an accident that left him first needing a cane and later in a wheel chair. My mother, after having neck surgery was treated with condescension by the hospital staff because the meds made her drowsy and nauseous. Most of us will face a time in our lives when we are reliant upon others to help us and we should all hope they are kind enough to treat us with compassion and as the intelligent, competent beings that we are.

    1. Aw, thank you. This was hard to share–one of those posts where I had to just suck it up and hit publish. There are few things that will turn me into a frustrated, snarly mess the way people talking down to me does.

      I’ve seen this happen so often to other people too, especially those who don’t speak English as a first language or who are visibly disabled. Why so some people think they need to speak more slowly or simply to someone who uses a wheelchair?!

  2. Thank you. This is an important post for people to read and really take-in and understand. I appreciate your ability to put this in a way that is accessible and so well explained, and I appreciate that you had the courage to hit the ‘share’ button. I will be sharing widely!

  3. This kind of things seems to happen often whenever anyone have a problem with language, oral or written… And maybe some of us are «slow» but being slow doesn’t mean stupid. It simply mean slow. Pierre Curie was slow, Albert Einstein too. Greatness take time to be made into words mean for others! (These are my arguments against people who are «nursing» me for being «disable».

    I love this post! I wish I could make some of my teachers read this…

    1. Thank you!

      Greatness definitely can’t be rushed. Also, things like deciding which donut I want. 🙂 You hit on something I’ve experienced a lot and didn’t mention here, which the urge a lot of people seem to have to “mother” me (and whatever the appropriate male term is). Another pet peeve of mine.

      1. Deciding which donut to eat isn’t about being slow or whatever, it’s about making a choice fundamental for our life. It’s a DONUT! High-sugar food! Of course it’s going to take some time! (sorry for the bad joke).

        The people nursing or mothering me without being my parents are deeply annoying. Everytime, I don’t mention being autistic not that much to avoid bad jugment (this is clearly not good in english but I don’t know the correct term) but rather in order to be on the same level as others. It’s almost like if having trouble communicating with voice = everybody must take pity of this person because she/he will never be able to life his/her life fully. Sorry for the bad term but since when the fu… is this the logical conclusion?

        Lot of love for the donuts.

        1. Donut decisions are definitely fundamental life choices. 😀

          I’ve had lots of people try to mother me without ever knowing that I’m autistic. I’m sure it would only get worse if they knew. I wonder if we give off some sort of nonverbal cues that read “help me” or something? I also frequently have people take things away from me if I’m struggling with them, like if I can’t get a cookie package open in whatever they consider the “right” amount of time. Ack! I’ll get it eventually. Sorry my poor fine motor coordination is making you uncomfortable in the mean time!

          1. I personally think it’s because most of us autistic tend to look childish and without defense to others. Whenever we are stressed, we become clumsy and start to seem like we’re having trouble. And people usually want to help others if they are not asking for it (or rather, assume that we are asking for help when we are not).

            And from personal experience, I think it’s the same as the «grammar nazi» thing of us Aspie (the little details annoy the hell out of us) but in reverse. Maybe our struggling with little problems are annoying to NT and they may just want it to stop so they do it in our place?

            1. That sounds like a good explanation. I definitely sense frustration from the other person in that situation and I do think that they mean well and are trying to help. OTOH, I’m an adult! I know how to ask for help when I need it. Usually. :-p

  4. THIS! It doesn’t just happen in conversation for me; it also happens when I come across as clumsy, quiet or weak to others (even though I still have no idea how). People have an expectation of the pace that others should be working in. When it doesn’t work that way, judgment ensues.

    Also, agree with #8. Learning how to drive someplace for the first time was a horrific experience for me. Most people could probably handle the instruction, “Take route 5 to get to X.” Even after months of driving, I still needed to be explained all the tiny steps that might not be as important for other people, for ex. what speed you have to drive in, what lane to steer the car into, any exits to make sure I don’t take, any merging traffic to look out for, any sharp turns to be wary of, etc. This is probably why I still rely on a GPS to get me somewhere, haha. Even now, I still need many of the steps explained or shown to me in real-time on a map just to make sure I know where I’m going.

    1. I know what you mean for the clumsiness… around 15 years of sport classes to end up being nursed upon by the teacher because I couldn’t get the … ball in the basket. Or tripping on our own shoes. Or running like a duck with one leg.

      Driving is scary! Even after a year, I can’t go on my own on road which I don’t use everyday in fear of getting lost! That’s the real reason why I have trouble driving alone even in my own little town… a U-turn on foot is easier. And walking people aren’t going to crash into you at 100km/h while expecting you got eyes around the head.

    2. Yes, there are definitely unspoken expectations. Though I admit to falling into this trap myself at times, like if I explain some computer task to someone and they don’t get it right away when it’s plainly obvious to me what they should be doing. But I try to keep my mouth shut as much as possible and be patient in those situations because I know how miserable being on the receiving end can be.

      Your driving story reminds me of how I give my husband driving directions. I don’t just tell him to turn right, I tell him if the ramp has an unusually sharp curve or if he’ll have to merge into an exit lane that has traffic entering the highway behind him. etc. because this is all stuff I have to be acutely aware of when I’m driving. GPS is a lifesaver, especially the multiple advance warnings for upcoming turns.

    3. I have the same problem driving. I need alot of instruction and explanation. Using the GPS it more confusing than helping sometimes, because my very short term memory is practicaly zero, especially when it’s about numbers and letters. And the Gps says a row of numbers and letters. I cannot remember them. But my medium and long term memory are ok. When I drive I look on the map first learning the route. Then I drive with google maps on. Seeing a blue moving dot calms me. I still avoid highways, because the complicated exits ( for me). Every time when I have to drive on a new route I am petrified. I must take my heard medication, and alot of Kava Kava. I had to take my husband to the airport several times and got lost all the time. Getting lost gives me another panik attack….driving on new routes is not funny for me!

      1. The short-time memory is a big problem for me too! Everytime I am driving to somewhere I’m not familiar for at least 2 or 3 years (yeah, that many) in order to stop asking when I’m going to turn or where it the place at least two time. Taking driving classes was hell because the monitor was always telling me to turn in 2 lights, so I was forgetting about it when I was at the light!

        Strangely I’m used to drive on highway because I only have to remember a number. Usual driving session on an unknow road/destination is more like this: «take the exit 40» not «go right on ** then right on ** stop here, go through heavy traffic, get lost, go back, get lost again, call dad, end up in a panic attack, go back home with dad»….

  5. Hi! I have been reading your blog for a few months now, but this is my first time to post. Just so you know where I am coming from, I am married to an Aspie, was raised by an Aspie, and I have two Aspie daughters. I am pretty sure I am Aspie, as well…but I have faked it and compensated and mimicked for so long that absolutely no one believes me. (I cannot WAIT until there is more research on females on the spectrum.) All of that being said, I have a genuine question for you. I am not in any way meaning to insult you. So here goes. I have read what you have written above. I get what you are saying. I am a front-runner for compassionate understanding and universal acceptance. I have always championed the underdog, mostly because I always FELT like a misunderstood underdog myself. (I have this fierce streak in me…a stubbornness and defiance that has kept me alive and moving forward, without much understanding or support.). But, honestly, the things you have listed above are really tough for a lot of people. Our modern culture is “in a hurry” all the time. There is so little patience and consideration for fellow humans…all humans. There is little kindness and generosity in the general population. And, as cruel as it may sound, there is a lot if ignorance. Now, I am not saying that this applies to ALL people, but I see it everywhere. I have experienced it first hand. I have witnessed my children struggle through social situations. You have a human right to ask for and expect such things as you have listed, but, in the real world, how do we go about this? For the most part, here in this space, we are preaching to the choir. We, in the community, KNOW these things. We get it. How do we reach those who don’t get it? They don’t even know that it is an option. They are just charging through life, heads down, focused inward, and unaware of the world around them. It is a huge challenge. Even with all my experience and understanding of ASD, I was confronted with a situation where I had to walk the talk. I work as a remedial English teacher to college freshman, and, last fall, I realized that I had a student on the spectrum. I recognized all the markers, and he brought it up himself during a discussion in class one day, and he confirmed what I already knew. I cannot tell you how hard it was to be his instructor. I felt so protective and so moved by his courage that it was very difficult to be objective. You may hate me for that, but it was a natural human reaction. I worked very hard to help him negotiate his first semester of college, but, because he was over 18, I was very limited in what I could do. Without an IEP, I could not treat him any differently than any other student. Any accommodations he could receive required jumping through massive hoops, and I did what I could from my end, but he and his parents had to initiate the process. And they chose not to do anything. I never knew if I his parents were upset with me for “interfering.” It was so difficult to know what was right or wrong. Now, just so you know, I believe in fairness, and I have always treated all my students this way. I live in a rural, mostly uneducated part of the Deep South, and I teach at a local community college. Many people here have never left the mountain where they were born. Most of my remedial students have had significant challenges in their childhoods…undiagnosed learning disabilities, a lack of adequate schooling, a lack of adequate parenting, ( or total abandonment by parents). These kids come to me loaded with fear of school and low self-esteem. While I work to bring them up to speed on basic grammar and on how to write a complete paragraph, I pour affirmation into their lives. I have to undo YEARS of bad programming. And, more than anything else, before they complete a semester in my classroom, it is my goal to change their mindset. They CAN overcome. They ARE worth my time and attention. They are not human trash. (I read their journals. And I weep.). Even more importantly, I have other students who don’t fit this description. They don’t need to be in my class. They just didn’t take the placement test seriously. They are arrogant and, often, quite lazy and entitled. So, while I have them as a captive audience, I shake them up a bit. I don’t let them sit in their comfortable arrogance, neglectful of their classmates who may have to sleep in a car that night. I tell them stories from my life. I make their writing assignments about things that force them to stretch their minds. I make them look deep inside and question their biases and intolerances . I may not have changed them all, but, it is the only way I have found that MAYBE, just maybe, I have opened some eyes and some minds. I will never know how far the effects may spread, but I just want you to know that someone is trying.
    Ish not always succeed, but I try. I hope it counts for something, not for me, but for the future, and for the world my children enter. Ad please excuse any grammar or punctuation errors! Best I can do on an iPhone.

    1. I’m never insulted by someone sharing an honest heartfelt opinion like you have here. And I’m always excited when something provokes a long time reader to comment. So welcome and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

      Your reaction – the question of who I hope to change and am I being just a little unrealistic to think I’ll change anyone at all – is pretty much what my husband said when he read this. I’m a realist at heart. Which is why I called it a “wish list” and not a set of expectations or demands.

      I do often sometimes like I’m preaching the choir. This is primarily autistic space and I like that because it gives us a place to figure out how to be in the world, in the company of other people like us. But then look, here is Vanessa right below you posting about how she wants to be more conscious about not unintentionally doing this in the future so hooray for reaching at least one person! Like you mention in working with your students, we can’t change everyone and some days we can’t change anyone at all, but I’m with you on keeping trying. Each person we do reach or help or educate or show compassion toward is one more person who will hopefully pass that along to someone else. I’d like to be a part of that and as discouraging as it might be sometimes, it feels like a good thing.

      I love the passion that comes across in your comment–for your students and for your children and the world at large. It gives me hope. 🙂

  6. I am very glad you posted this. I am sure I have done this to someone that I noticed having communication gaps/glitches. I am sure I spoke more slowly to someone I thought, on first meeting, was “slow on the uptake.” I’m sure I’ve misread body language and changed my demeanor based on it. I sincerely thought I was being helpful so that the person would feel comfortable talking to me and know that I would be patient. But it must have come across as condescending instead. I feel bad for that, and I feel like a bad person for posting this. But I will definitely keep this in mind going forward. I would never want someone to feel a pit in the stomach because of me.

    1. Oh dear, my goal wasn’t to make anyone feel like a bad person! In fact, you seem like a really good person who wants to treat those around her with respect. I like how open minded and honest you are. Thank you for that. It means a lot.

      1. Just to clarify, you didn’t make me feel like a bad person. You opened my eyes to something very important and looking back, I feel badly that I didn’t react differently in those situations. Your posts always humble me even though I don’t comment on each one of them. Maybe I am one of the few NTs reading this but you are right: I do take whatever I learn and pass it along to my family, my friends, my acquaintances… Here’s hoping one day all these little steps lead to respect for everyone and greater understanding.

        1. Thank you for commenting. It’s always nice to be able to put a voice/face to one more reader. I do think that every little bit helps. All of our interactions with each other are a series of big and small choices, even if we sometimes don’t give a whole lot of thought to every single choice along the way. It’s good to be reminded occasionally of how our choices can affect others.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Extra processing time is so helpful. It reduces the pressure of a situation, which makes it easier to think and can actually shorten my response time. Whereas someone pushing me or, ironically, someone trying to help me along in responding can make it harder to respond because then I have to cope with processing stressful social interaction on top of the intellectual demands of the situation.

      1. I notice this a lot with my niece. She takes longer to perform “simple” tasks like opening a package. She is now 11 and she will give something a half-hearted attempt and then hand it to a family member for completion. This shows me that we have been quick over the years to rush her/take over for her at these kind of tasks to the point where she doesn’t even think she can do it for herself. Whereas with my NT daughter who is 3, when she struggles with something, I tell her to keep trying. That’s a dangerous double standard. I have started being more conscious of this and encouraging my niece to take as long as she needs, hoping it will build her confidence. I would rather wait for her to ask for my help, or ask to be shown how to do something, rather than just step in.

        1. My parents were really good about always encouraging me to try and not being quick to jump in to help so I’m very tenacious. Maybe that’s why it bugs me when people want to step in before I asked for help. Interesting.

          It’s good that you’re actively encouraging your niece to keep at things longer. Kids are so sensitive to the unspoken messages that adults give off.

      2. A relative of mine was the worst at this. I remember an interchange like this:

        Me: I…want…to…
        Relative: see a movie?
        Me: No…I…want…to….
        Relative: play a board game?
        Me: No…I…want…to…
        RelativE: go to the gym?
        Me: No…I…want…
        Relative: go for a walk?
        Me: No…I…
        Relative: *keeps butting in like fifty times*
        Me: …

        1. lol! I’ve had something like that happen to me. I tend to do better in one-on-one situations, but in group settings, what you’ve talked about happens to me a lot and before I can even say that I want to do something or what my thoughts are. It’ll go something like this:

          Person A: Hey, what do you guys want to do today?
          Me: I want to…
          Person B: You know what we should do? Let’s go skiing!

          Then my voice will get softer because I guess I’m shocked at being interrupted and I’ll either say “not up to it” or “sure” as a default response to buy myself time to think but then

          Person C: SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT IDEA!
          Person A and B both agree, and say so OUT LOUD as a way to show enthusiasm….which completely disrupts my thought process. At this point, my brain has given up on communicating.
          Person A, B, and C suddenly start planning out how the day will go.
          Me: Still stuck at figuring out what everyone just said

          I’ve only learned to deal with that by taking in a deep breath and talking louder. On the rare occasion when I can do that, people suddenly stop talking and will actually listen to me.

  7. “If I ask for clarification, try explaining in a different way. If I didn’t understand the way you explained the first time, an exact repetition probably won’t help.”

    This reminds me of an event a couple years ago that still pisses me off. My SIL was trying to tell me the name of a church over the phone–I sometimes have difficulty making people out over digital media, so after asking her to repeat the name a couple times I start asking her to spell the name out. She kept repeating the name itself, rather than following my suggestion. It took me a while to be able to decipher the phonetics into meaningful words, especially since context was no freaking help. She didn’t know at the time that I’m on the spectrum (I’m not sure if she does now–I’ve never told her but her mother knows), but the fact that she kept ignoring my request…ugh.

    1. Oh, I can totally sympathize with you on both struggling to decipher some out of context word over the phone and on having someone ignore a direct request like that. It’s no surprise that you still remember the incident after years have past. 😦

  8. I do want people to talk slower to me because I just can’t process language at the speed it normally happens at, but… there’s different ways of talking slower. There’s the slowing down where you take your time and speak at a slow, meandering pace, which feels respectful, but there’s another type of slowing down that feels disrespectful, especially when coupled with a sort of pigeon people use, shortening their sentences to the point of “cat hungry. cat want food. feed cat.” The slowing down coupled with a sigh and a roll of the eyes and an unspoken “how can you be so stupid?” But there is that other kind of slow speech, where it feels like the person is saying “I’m slowing down to savour this conversation” not “I’m slowing down because you can’t keep up” — even if it’s true that I can’t keep up, it’s nice when someone can reduce their speed without making me feel stupid.

    It’s annoying when someone explains something simple to me, because it makes me wonder if they think I’m too dumb to know it. But I’ve been on the other side of that. A friend of my family had my e-mail address for a while and they kept e-mailing me these questions that they could have answered for themselves with a minute of googling, and they weren’t questions on topics I was interested in or had any expertise with, they were just random questions that I would have to google myself if I wanted to answer them. So I wrote a polite e-mail explaining to her how to use google with tips on how to word the search. I did this because I could not think of any reason for her to be e-mailing me these questions unless she had never heard of google. Years later, it occurs to me that of course she’d heard of google and she was just trying to delegate her curiosity to me, because she figured I had more time for googling than she did. But I’m not so good at social stuff and at the time, I really did sincerely think that she just didn’t know how to google.

    When I was a kid, I couldn’t think of any reason my teacher would ask me basic arithmetic questions unless she didn’t know the answers, so I’m afraid I was very condescending to her too.

    1. I love your last sentence. It reminds me so much of my nephew who is 4. I can already see that he has no time for being asked things that seem obvious to him.

      1. It was hard because she was asking me things that I had already learned around age 2 or 3 (1+1=???) and I was 5 or 6 at this point, so either she thought I was as ignorant as someone half my age or she was ignorant herself. I didn’t realise that my peers were struggling to learn these things. I was a smart kid in some ways, but there are some pretty basic concepts, such as “what is school?” “what does teaching mean?” that I did not understand at all.

        There’s still some pretty basic stuff that I’m learning, and some pretty complex stuff that I understand that most people don’t. But I guess in some way that’s true of anyone.

        I guess what I’d say to your nephew is “sometimes, when people ask you questions, it’s because most four year olds wouldn’t know the answer, and they want to see whether this is something you’ve learned yet or not. If you show them you know the answers to the easy stuff, they can teach you more interesting things. If you don’t show them you know the answer, they’ll keep ask you boring questions.”

          1. When I was at school I used to get confused as to why people would ask questions that they clearly knew the answer to, so I cam to believe that they were ‘trick’ questions, that they must be trying to catch me out or that I must have missed some other important part, so I’d hesitate to answer (and blush like mad and get more and more awkward). I hated being asked to answer out loud in class, even though I was usually the smartest academically, and I could see the teachers getting frustrated, but they just put it down to me being shy (which I was also). I think I came across as a strange mixture of shy, awkward and condescending :/

            1. Shy, awkward and condescending sounds like the ticket to be the most popular kid in class. 😀 I have a feeling this described me during some stages of my childhood.

              I wonder if anyone thinks to explain to autistic kids why they’re being asked questions in school. You’re definitely not the only one who was confused by the artificial give and take of the classroom. I still found it annoying when professors asked questions with obvious answers in college. It seems pointless or something. If we all know X then let’s move on and do something productive.

    2. argh. yes I know it’s spelt pidgin.

      And about rewording vs. repeating: I think in some circumstances I prefer the phrase to be repeated back to me word for word in the same order so that I can retry parsing the same sounds I heard before, now that I have a memory of what the sounds to expect are. But other times I do want things rephrased. I’m trying to think of how to tell from the outside looking in which one I want, but I’m not thinking of anything helpful. :/

      One thing I do tend to do is I’ll repeat my best guess of what the other person said. This gives me another chance at parsing it and lets them know that I have probably misheard them. And I also do it because it’s like playing telephone, hopefully good for a laugh.

      My favourite example of this was “Could you squirrel the violins’ peas?”

      It eventually turned out that they were saying “Could you see me in the kitchen please?”

      1. Neither rewording or repeating work for me, I need it to be written down to understand what the person is telling me if I didn’t understand at first. I don’t heard something weird, I just heard sound without meaning.
        Squirrel a violin’s pea make sense to me through. if you take a violin head (it’s a eadible plant!) and put a pea on it or mix it, and thus applie a cooking skill called squirrel… ok I need more coffee. And donuts.

        1. I sometimes hear sound without meaning. Other times I hear weird stuff. Some of the weird stuff I say is just my best guess at reproducing the sounds I thought I heard, my best attempt at finding words that match the sounds. With my CAPD, a lot of what I hear gets garbled. I have trouble telling where the gaps are between words and my ears mix up a lot of consonants with each other, and some vowels too.

          It’s less stressful for me when the language is gone completely, and I’m just paying attention to the sound -> colour synaesthesia and not noticing that I’m supposed to be deciphering it. It’s stressful trying to decipher it. Written words are best, though. You want me to do something? Write it down and it will happen. Call me on the telephone and I’ll engage in whatever script will make the words stop invading my ears as soon as possible, which is “yeah, sure” (I have no idea what I’m agreeing to but if i say no you’ll argue and throw more words at me.)

          Without a doubt, seeing it in writing is the best way to get information into my head. I’m hopeless at following verbal directions. When I’m talking to my girlfriend on skype, a garbled echolaelia sentence is a request for a repeat, but half the time I’ll just say “IRC?” and she’ll write it in IRC for me.

      2. I do the repeating thing, especially when I’m getting instructions. Last year I subbed in to run lights for a show (I’m an actor, not a techie, but the regular lights person was running dangerously late and I wasn’t in the show), and I stopped the guy every three steps or so to repeat back what he was saying, so I could make sure I understood it. It also helped that we were in the booth with everything set up so I had a really good visual context for the whole thing, and the guy is a friend who I’d worked with before so I didn’t feel bad about getting as much explanation as I needed. Still, I was nervous about the whole thing, and I was really relieved when the regular light person made it in just in time!

        Also, can I just say (since I’m here and all), that I love the way Autistics answer questions. “Here’s my answer, and a story with a lot of explanation that would probably be overbearing to an NT reader but really helps us flesh things out and give something closer to the actual answer that’s in our heads.”

    3. You nailed it about the different ways of slowing down speech. It’s one thing to give someone time to process by pausing or to speak more slowly but not simplify the content of the speech. It’s another thing entirely to take a condescending tone or use belittling body language. I think that the people who I interact most comfortably with are ones who have a naturally slower pacing to their conversational style.

      Maybe your relative emailing all those questions was trying to be sociable? Perhaps you responded well once or twice and so she thought that you enjoyed doing her research for her and used that as an unconventional way to stay in touch. I know that my extended family often asks me computer related questions that they could probably answer on their own. I figure it’s a bonding thing. Or maybe laziness.

      Your story about the arithmetic questions is adorable. 🙂

      1. Exactly. I remember one example of my girlfriend getting it really right. I was having a lot of trouble with my productive speech and wasn’t able to get the words into grammatical sentences very well. I was saying stuff like: “perl is too much kitchen sink. like nethack.” We were talking in text, so I was processing okay, but I was worried that I didn’t look like I was processing because I wasn’t typing “intelligently” enough. But she was able to look at the content of my responses, not the format, and see that I was responding on topic and that my responses had depth and complex reasoning behind them, so she kept talking with me, and we were able to have an interesting discussion.

        I think a lot of people would have seen the superficial simplicity of my responses and thought my entire mind was gone, not just my productive language skills. (If we’d been speaking, my receptive language would have been gone too, but I was doing okay on reading comprehension this time.) You can just hear your parents saying “stop talking like that! People will think you’re stupid!” I kept waiting for it, so I said things like “I’m ok I just don’t language.”

        Maybe the question writer was trying to socialise, but they were really random questions, the kind that occur to you when you’ve been ambling about wikipedia for a few hours and you suddenly wonder about the history of textiles or you want to know what toasters are made of or you want to know about the mating habits of frogs. i call it “micro special interests” when I find myself spending 3 days memorising facts about turtles and how to care for them and what are the signs of illness in pet turtles what do they eat and what’s their ideal temperature…and then it fades and I go back to my general state of “I am glad turtles exist but I’m okay with not knowing everything about them.” I keep the knowledge, though.

        They’re the kind of questions that can be fun to ask yourself and wander around the internet in search of an answer, but it gets kind of annoying when you’re wandering around the internet for somebody else and having to summarise it for them.

        1. I’m the kind of person who asks those micro special interests questions. I once made my daughter google why buses have flashing lights on top while we were walking around the neighborhood because I suddenly needed to know the answer. 🙂 I have a tendency to retain all those little facts long after I’ve lost interest in them too. People often respond to my random fact volunteering with a “how/why do you know that?” Mostly I try to do my own Googling though.

          It’s cool that your girlfriend is able to parse your communication if you find you’re got reduced capacity. That’s not only a great skill but it must be comforting to know that you can be yourself.

          1. I don’t always ask micro special questions but I retain random facts too! One time in history class I read about a Mexican war in a year I don’t remember anymore and the history book specifically mentioned that the only casualty was a donkey. The next day our teacher mentioned this exact war and that was the first thing I blurted out. Needless to say, my teacher looked at me funny. But it was a true fact that was confirmed by a classmate!

            Slep Ulica, you talk about not getting words into grammatical sentences really well but the example you provided is something that’s pretty common among heavy texters and those who IM. And depending on who you’re with it might even be acceptable to say out loud or easily understood! Ex. actually using “lol” as a noun or at the end of a sentence. Or sometimes I get tired of formalspeak and say things like “why you no visit?” which actually works if you translate it word for word to Chinese plus it’s based off a meme. I will admit though that it may be more common among a specific subset of a population and that what one person might think is appropriate really depends on their experiences. But I really think tech is helping to facilitate all kinds of communication, intelligent sounding or not! 🙂

            1. I don’t text all that much, and my language doesn’t lend itself to much text speak anyway: every morpheme has meaning and leaving them off changes the meaning of the sentence. there are a few misspellings that are popular but they don’t save all that many characters in a text message.

              I think there’s a difference between talking funny because you’re following a meme and you’re doing it on purpose vs. not being able to word things in the right order. A lot of memes are based on people talking like non-native speakers. But someone who is actually a non-native speaker would want improve their speech to sound less foreign.

              Also, I’m usually able to type very quickly but when I’m non languaging well, it’s hard to find any of the letters so I slow down to a fraction of my usual speed. (also, not evidenced in the examples i gave here, but i was having trouble understanding the space bar that day too, so I endedup writinga lotlike this,too.)

              But, I agree with you that while internally my language skills felt pretty horrible because it was such a struggle, externally, the effect was more subtle that it felt.

              My sentences got shorter than is normal for me, my clauses were less complex than normal, and I left out filler words. But in another way, it also took me longer to say things:

              Another example is:

              “picture this. i have soup in pot. i have pot on tray. i have knees up. tray is balance between knees and chest. cat is crawled into space under tray onto lap.”

              I couldn’t say “Hey,I’ve got this pot of soup balanced on tray over my knees and my cat has crawled under it.” which would have been shorter, and is what I could say right now if it happened. I only had a few sentence structures i could choose from.

            2. Ah, I see what you mean. I was just thinking that even if I feel more comfortable using sentences with less grammar, I do adapt when in an office setting because, well, it’s not necessarily appropriate, so yeah, it’s more of an intentional thing for me. I definitely have had problems communicating, though, but for me when it happens, I find I don’t remember any of the nouns (sometimes verbs) and have to use a lot of descriptive words. I’ll start mumbling and use vague terms like “that thing that you use to do x” when it’s a spatula or “that green thing” when it’s an avocado. Somehow, my family knows what I’m talking about even though an outsider won’t be able to figure out what that means because anything can be used to do x or be green. It’s amazing how the people close to us somehow understand what we say. 😀

            3. Oh, I do that too! I had a friend over one time and I was wandering around looking for something and she asked me what I was looking for and I said “blue!” and she asked me “what is blue?” and all i could say was “the thing I’m looking for. its blue. where is the blue thing?”

              and really that should have been enough. it narrows it down considerably. it means i’m not looking for the red pencil or the orange carrot or the green lamp. I did eventually find the blue bag and I showed it to her and told her it was blue and that if I’m ever looking for something blue, this is what I’m looking for.

              I also resort to gestures a lot, especially if I’m looking for something that has an iconic gesture, like making scissor motions with my fingers to say i’m looking for scissors. But people are unobservant.

              them: “what are you looking for?”
              me: *scissors hands*
              them: i don’t know what *flaps hands mockingly, losing all nuance* means!

              like they’d never seen anyone play rock paper scissors. or something. Even my cat has figured out that the various gestures I make have meaning.

  9. really good info here. thank you so much for sharing.Only knowing you online it is rather hard for me to picture you this way. so I love that you discussed this, it gives me framework to view other’s I may meet through. that is poorly worded but I hope you get the point 🙂

    1. Yep, I definitely get what you mean. You’re probably not the only one thinking this today. 🙂

      My presentation “in text” and verbally is fairly different. During my recent return to college, I would get treated quite differently by professors who first read my papers then heard me answer oral questions in class versus the other way around. I swear there were a few who found it hard to believe I did the written work I handed in until I produced something similar in essay style exams.

      1. I was thinking this afternoon that being better on paper can be a good thing. When I hear people saying how much they hate writing or how hard they find, I always feel thankful that I enjoy writing and have never found it to be a chore or frightening.

  10. I haven’t had this problem, really…but, that is because after I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve asked a person to repeat what they said once, I’m too embarrassed to ask them to repeat it again. So, I wind up just pretending that I understood them, and hoping they’ll move on. That works great–until it doesn’t.

    I wind up feeling like the stereotypical foreigner who just nods and smiles while they are lost trying to follow a conversation in an unfamiliar language. Not always, but often enough that it bothers me. Especially when trying to talk on the phone.

    1. Oh, I do that too sometimes. Even with my husband because I’ll ask him to repeat something three times and then I just can’t anymore. The worst is when someone is expecting an answer and you have idea what the question was or even what would be in the right ballpark as a reply. :-/

      1. Yup. In that situation (expecting a reply) I wind up throwing out a non-answer that at least sounds like something. “Sounds like you know what you’re doing.” “Yup, isn’t it always that way?” “Uhhh…I think so?” Sometimes it works; sometimes I get a raised eyebrow and a confused walk-away. Whoops.

        1. Ha, yes. If it’s a transactional situation, like in a store, sometimes “what do you recommend/think is best?” is a good way to get some details. Also, if there’s an overly long pause after they’ve asked a question, a lot of people will repeat or rephrase or prompt in some way which can be helpful. So many work arounds . . .

  11. I love this post and this entire conversation. There is so much to respond to, that I will try to boil it down to just a few things.

    First, I relate completely with Lisa, except I teach math to college students, and agree with everything she said.

    Second, and the underlying theme to my entire response, this is all universally true in all directions. I love Slepa Ulica’s language suggested for the other commenter’s nephew, and I think it is appropriate across all age groups. I use it, or similar language, in the college classroom all the time. Just as Lisa described, with our mass-learning environment, each class contains students at radically different levels (yes, even though they are all supposedly appropriate and ready for that class). So I lay down the ground rules at the beginning of the term and repeat them throughout the semester. Be patient with everyone else. There may be times when you are bored, and there will be times you will be challenged. Communicate as best you can and we will all try to get the most of out the experience we can. Unfortunately, the environment of a college math class tends to make most people feel very fragile, and maintaining patience and respect for others is really hard when you are fearful about your own plight and struggling to do better.

    Thirdly, “this is all universally true in all directions,” regardless of labels. We are all different, and we will at times get it wrong when we are working/communicating with others. Awareness and willingness are key. If we open ourselves up to possibilities and look for signs that the people with whom we are associating want something different, we owe it to them, just as we want for ourselves, to try to learn what it is they want and deliver it. Yet, this is much easier said than done. Just as I know I canNOT, as much as I may want to, give others what they want all of the time, I must accept they may not be able to give me what I want. So, within that framework of possibilities, can we find ways to value each other and see that we are valued, even if some of the experience goes wrong.

    This post has gone longer than I hoped, but I want to conclude with a specific example. As comments show, many of you struggle with sound processing and background noise as I do too; I have a really really hard time with it during class time. With a class, often filled with NTS or Allistics, they usually cannot understand why I get so upset with the “muttering” and general noise level. Fortunately, I am understanding more and more about them and myself, and I now understand much of that noise is a natural reaction to their fears and struggles and very concerted efforts to succeed (which often means just completing) in the course. I work hard to be patient with them and talk to them about how sensitive I am to the noise. Can we find a balance? If I feel particularly stressed and sensitive (such as the day of the Boston bombing), I warn them that I am particularly bothered by the noise that day, and often they curb it a good bit. But I have to reciprocate and let the noise irritate me at other times, when I think I can hold my cool and still conduct class without an episode wherein I get too upset. It is a tricky balance.

    Concluding now (I promise). my hope for all of the Vanessas and the rest of us, is that we focus on finding ways of showing how much we value each other, and hope those messages are louder than any unintended slights.

    1. What a wonderfully balanced and insightful comment! Also, you aren’t even close to breaking the record for longest comment here. 🙂

      I went back to college as a “returning student” (i.e. old) and had to take remedial math because I’d forgotten quite a lot. All three of my math teachers (pre-algebra, algebra and applied calculus) were some of the most patient and understanding people I’ve ever met. There really is a lot of fragility in learning math for some reason and though I only just now realized it because of your comment, they all recognized that and went to great lengths to make the classrooms a safe space for learning.

      What you point out about needing to ask your students to meet you halfway is what I was trying to convey in saying that much of my wishlist comes under the heading of accommodations – things that if I need/want them from others, I’ll have to ask. No one will instinctively do much of what’s on that list because it’s a bit nonstandard. The same is probably true of you asking your students to keep the noise levels down moreso than they might have to in other classes. And you’re right, we have to meet in the middle. I think the undercurrent of frustration in this post is because I haven’t been asking for what I need from others and I’m only just now identifying how to do that. As I (hopefully) learn to ask in simple direct ways as issues arise for me, I think (hope) my communication abilities will expand. So while I made that list of what I wish would magically happen, I know that I need to actively take steps on a case-by-case basis to bring that about in daily life.

      1. Your blog is helping so much to spread and expand understanding and awareness, allowing for more patience and seeing more value in ourselves and others.

        Since you encourage me to continue rambling…

        a key to finding value in others, is first to see the value in ourselves. For me, and I imagine for many us, that has been a long hard road. Reading your blog over the last couple of months has really helped me see more value in myself. That self-kindness and compassion we speak about. The above commentary has shined a light on another aspect of me that I did not know could be related to my aspie-ness. The driving stuff. I have an absolutely horrid memory of when I first had my driver’s license at 16, and I was entrusted to drive a couple of younger members of our summer club dive team to an away meet and I got terribly lost on the way home. NTs certainly thought they had given me enough direction, but it clearly was not enough for me. The story ends fine, with everyone getting home safely, if quite a bit late (and this was in the days before cell phones…). But boy did that story, and others haunt me and de-value my self image. Over the years, I have found work-arounds and gotten much better at many of those things I struggled so mightily with, but understanding that events like that are connected to my aspie-ness, my wiring, helps me to reflect much more kindly on my younger self.

        Still, I am not sure if it would have been better to know my neurotype when I was younger. A commenter above nailed it when addressing the subtle differences between “slowing” down in a condescending way versus an effective but respectful way. The subtlety between using something like our neurotype as an excuse versus using an awareness of our neurotype to find ways to thrive can be a difficult balancing act, too. For aspie kids, like the ones referenced in the above commentary, or for parents or supporters of those kids, that has got to be a tough situation to figure out. At what point does someone need help opening a package, and when does it call for patience and continued struggle? As in my first comment, this is confusing for everyone across labels, but when dealing with dramatically different neurotypes it is so much more challenging. For me personally, I wonder if I needed to develop more first, so I could use my much more experienced and mature brain (middle-aged), to be able to navigate that balancing act, when I am able to look back at ways that I have already found work-arounds that allow me to thrive, versus what might have been had I known more about my neurotype when I was younger -prior- to having figured out work-arounds on my own. I hope for kids today, though, we are in a time and culture that has a much more evolved, and more respectful, outlook on people with “disabilities” or rather ‘differences.’ So, maybe I would want to know I am aspie as a teenager today, but I am kind of glad I didn’t know it as a teenager in the 80s. Hmm, yep, that definitely turned into rambling.

        1. I’m not sure how knowing that I was autistic growing up would have impacted me either. It’s something I’ve wondered a lot about. I can think of a lot of supports or information that would have been helpful in practical ways. But I can also see how getting that diagnosis in the 70s might have been very stigmatizing. Instead I grew up with the gifted label, which made me one of those fake it til you make it kind of people. That’s been an advantage in some ways, less so in others. I think either way, there are going to be pluses and minuses.

        2. Dave, I’ve also wondered the same thing. But even in the 90s and 00s, around the time when I suspected I was autistic, I don’t think there was enough information out there about autistic females for me to even find out if I was autistic or not. I still remember googling it but not coming up with any results except maybe the one link. What I ended up doing, though, was reading a LOT of self-help guides on the Internet about being myself, setting boundaries, and making friends. It took some time (and a lot of tears, literally, from the frustration at not being popular or social enough in school!), but with those self-help guides I’m now in a place where I’m comfortable with who I am. I wouldn’t give that up for the world. 🙂 There are definitely pluses and minuses.

  12. It has never occurred to me that ‘Are you following me?’ and ‘Does that make sense?’ could have anything to do with my communication. I just presumed those people had an annoying habit of speech, like an unnecessary verbal tick. Because some people tend to say things like that a lot, and others rarely do.

    I like your strategy with presenting yourself via email/text first. That is what I try to do too… First impression matters a lot and as you say can be resilient against later verbal glitches (because most people prefer to believe the best if they feel they have a choice), and there is a much better chance I can make an impression of indisputable competency/professionalism in writing.

    1. For some people, it is a verbal tic. I know someone who does it, and I know they’re not being condescending to me when they say it to me because they treat me with a lot of respect in general. But I think there’s a difference…in tone, in body language. I don’t have a large enough sample size, but the person I know, for whom it is a verbal tic, she’s not asking an actual question, because she doesn’t pause to let you answer, just inserts “does that make sense?” in the middle of her monologue a few times and then keeps going whether it made sense or not. (It’s hard, because even knowing that it’s not a literal question doesn’t stop me from spending a few minutes trying to interpret it as one and then by the time I tune back in she’s switched topics three times, but that’s my subpar auditory processing skills and it’s not something that can be helped on either end, but we switch to text when it gets to be too much for me.)

      I think when it’s not a verbal tic, the person will pause and expect a yes or no answer. And when they’re being condescending, they’ll do it after even simple sentences. Like “This is a calculator. If you want to add numbers you have to push the + key in between the numbers. Does that make sense?” and they wait for you to say “yeah, thank you for teaching me this newfangled technology I have never encountered a calculator in my adult life before this point.”

      1. Thank you for clarifying.

        “This is a calculator. If you want to add numbers you have to push the + key in between the numbers. Does that make sense?”

        Yes I can see that is condescending. If someone said that to me and I didn’t get too confused about it then I hope I would take it as a great chance to come with a deeply ironic response, e.g. play the caricature stupid blond that really had no clue how to operate a calculator. (could be fun;-)

    2. I do think some people have verbal tics like that (and some people are just jerks who treat everyone like idiots). What bugs me isn’t necessarily that type of questioning or a person’s overall tone but the way I’ve noticed people change their approach to me mid-conversation and suddenly start using different types of language, etc. I’m super sensitive to patterns in social interaction so I guess I tend to notice when a person’s pattern changes.

      1. I see. I don’t think I have tried that… people changing attitude half way through a conversation. I have tried plenty of times that some people consistently treated me as if I’m ‘a bit slow’ (especially in a workplace: giving me kid-level tasks only! very frustrating!) while some others seem to erroneously think that I am extraordinarily smart.

        1. It’s funny that we can get people treating us like we’re either much smarter or much less smart that we are at different times. Probably says a lot about the unevenness of our presentation/functioning/whatever you want to call it.

          1. Yes, that sounds right. Uneven development leads to uneven presentation at different times:-) depending on the context and requirements of the situation.

  13. This is brilliant. Thank you so much. Would you mind terribly if I used it to explain my daughter to some “less than educated people”?
    She is only six, but I still feel that this fits her. Except sadly, they either treat her poorly because she doesn’t meet their standards of what she should be, or they talk to her like a baby.
    It’s extremely frustrating to watch and fix. I have to undo all the damage they inflict on her. And I’m well aware that I’m not perfect. But, I know I’m the only one in her life who has bothered to educate themselves since her dx, 3 years ago.
    You put this so simply, that even the willfully ignorant can’t help but understand. I applaud you.

    1. Thank you. I’d be honored if you want to use this to help other people understand your daughter better.

      I think that no matter what age someone is, they deserve to be treated similarly to their peers unless they require adaptations to understand or communicate. And even then the key word is adaptations, which is different from being babied. So in your daughter’s case, she has a right to be treated like any other 6-year-old rather than being treated like a much younger child because of how she presents.

      Regardless of how others are behaving, I’m sure your daughter knows that you respect her and presume competence with her and that’s huge.

  14. I thank you so much. I get reactions from people for being different as well. I come across manic with twitches and jumbled words. It is so painful, and building anxiety makes me seem only crazier and more out of control. The root is the same, but the presentation is different. These suggestions will help others, help me. Excellent, excellent, post!

    1. It’s such a vicious cycle because anxiety and stress only make things worse. I’m glad you found this helpful. Writing out the list helped me identify the kinds of things I need to start asking for from others rather than just silently fuming. 🙂

  15. I once had someone tell me that their first impression of me was that I was the smartest person they’d ever met, until I started speaking. I can totally relate to communicating better on paper. Perhaps that’s one reason I enjoy writing so much. I grew up thinking I was below average intelligence due to my poor interpersonal skills. Now I know better. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Ack, what a horrible thing to say.

      It’s amazing how learning about ASD and our particular strengths/weaknesses can completely change our self-concept. Fortunately, it usually seems to change for the better. 🙂

  16. Thank you so much for writing this, because I never picked up on those “you’re slow” cues before – I just assumed people were being odd.

    And thank you for mentioning the auditory lag, it happens to me all the time.

    1. Same here! With the auditory lag, I always thought it was because I was going deaf, but it seems like there’s a lot more going on because I hear the words just fine. I just don’t always understand them at first.

    2. Some people probably are just odd! But I also have some very specific memories of encounters with people where their behavior shifted very obviously as the conversation progressed. The more of those I accumulated, the more I started to see patterns in them. No surprise there, of course.

      Robin described my experience with auditory lag perfectly below. First I hear sounds and then after a couple of beats. the sounds organize themselves into words, often with the help of contextual clues. It seems situation specific – busy environments, new places, unfamiliar situations, etc.

      1. It’s exactly the same for me with the lag. And I, too, used to worry it was my hearing, because it’s been happening so much more lately due to a completely new life situation.

  17. On an IQ scale my verbal reasoning is around 135 and my processing speed is 89.

    ‘A little slow’ is a perfectly accurate description of what’s going on with me in most real time situations where I struggle to follow what’s going on or give the correct answer immediately. I’m especially poor at understanding the context without having it patiently explained to me in verbose detail.

    Thing is that when someone’s has specific learning differences or an autistic spectrum condition, being slow isn’t any indication of anything except the speed it takes to get to the correct answer.

    This is why one of my most important accommodations at work is getting the materials and questions in advance so I can think about them and work through them before the meeting or conversation where I’m expected to answer. Without that I have to bluff and ‘tread water’, filling space until my brain catches up with the conversation.

    I like that The Doctor in Doctor Who is a genius who often bemoans how slow he is for taking the length of the episode to work out the answer. There’s a lovely scene in The Krotons where Zoe and the Second Doctor use the learning machine and Zoe gets an amazingly high score on first go, while the Doctor takes three goes to even get the right answers but then outdoes Zoe’s score. I related 🙂

    1. It’s a very literal description for me too, which is why I had so much trouble titling this one! I’m slow but not slow (in the awful derogatory sense that the word is sometimes used to denote – ugh).

      Getting questions and topics in advance of meetings is an accommodation that would definitely benefit me too. Even in answering comments here, I rarely do it right away. I read them as soon as they come in (obsessive comment stalking FTW) but usually take some time to let them simmer before answering. If I don’t, I’ll think of a half dozen things to say after hitting “reply” or an hour later or the next day.

      I need to give Dr. Who a chance again. I started watching with my daughter (10th doctor I think) but then she went home and I never picked up on it again. So many people I know are fans and make regular references to the show.

    2. I definitely agree that getting or identifying the materials and questions I can prepare on and work through in advance would help a lot at work. I think it’d also really help in any social setting, really (even if it’s just looking this up on Google-I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am for the Internet). I actually need to prepare for even the most basic of questions and gestures (introducing myself, saying hi, don’t forget to shake hands) and mentally review an individual’s personality and life history ahead of time (even if it’s someone I know) if I know ahead of time that there’s a chance I’ll run into them somewhere. If I don’t, I end up unable to keep a conversation going or can even become completely quiet, with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face!

  18. Reblogged this on DysGirl.com and commented:
    As an ‘Aspie’ (or formerly known as…now we are all high functioning autistic) with central auditory processing disorder plus prosopagnosia, I completely resonate with this post. Central auditory processing disorder basically means that, although I have a greater than average range of hearing, I cannot distinguish sound from background noise; if you speak to me with a lot of ambient noise, I lip read to supplement. Prosopagnosia (as Brad Pitt can tell you) is face blindness; the inability to utilize the face as a means of recognition. Very debilitating in social situations of any kind. Especially when I wouldn’t know a social cue if it mugged me. Now etiquette, I get. I know my forks. Rules that are specific and do not rely on some abstract code of secret shrugs and winks are a comforting thing to me; they help me blend in. Ironically, I am very good at analyzing people from a more psychological standpoint, but at a distance, in a past tense. Definitely not in an ongoing situation where one must incorporate use do this foreign language of mystic signs and signals, the teaching of which I was somehow excluded from entirely. Anyway, this is a

  19. If you consider yourself slow, I’d hate to think what many people think about me, depending on the day & if I’m at the top of my game or not. While you may not always be verbally able to communicate with perfection; the fact you recognize that, and more so the condescension in others speaks volumes for your intelligence. I’m often not able to discern such things until later & then wish I had at the point of conversation, so I could have handled things a little more differently.
    Good Luck to you & thanks for a great piece!

    1. I may not always realize it, actually, but sometimes it’s blatantly obvious. Like the person will change their demeanor in talking to and then to my husband standing right next to me or something hard to miss like that. Also, I rarely manage to do anything about it in the moment except get more flustered. It’s afterwards that I end up fuming and ranting and rehashing every little nuance in the conversation. :-/

      Definitely something I’m trying to work on.

  20. Oops, am guilty of some of using “does this make sense”, but not to my knowledge with autistic people, but it sounds as though I shouldn’t use it with anyone! I’d never thought of it as condescending before 😦

    1. I think a big part of it is tone and timing. As someone said in the comments here. some people have verbal tics like “got it?” or “does this make sense” that they use habitually. I don’t have a problem with that because they do it all the time, regardless of the listener. Others will switch over to a condescending style of speech with certain people.

      I had a professor once who only used that phrase with me, in a small class of about 6 people. The rest of them, he never inquired about their comprehension unless it was generally to the whole class (is everyone following, does anyone have any questions, etc), but a few times a class he would look right at me and ask. It was so odd and obvious that he thought I was completely lost, even though I wasn’t and didn’t think I was giving off cues that would suggest I was. Of course, knowing how atypical my body language can be, he was probably getting all sorts of mixed messages.

  21. This gives me more understanding of my young son with ASD. He habitually says ‘what did you say?’ after most sentences and I have been losing my patience and knowing I was not being the best of Mums. I have been giving him time now before replying so it gives him time to work it out first and he often does and I spoke to him about just waiting a little while before asking. I see the girls in his class mothering him but he seems to quite like it. He is too young now but perhaps later he may make a stand.

    1. It’s great to hear that it’s helpful. The processing lag is very real and probably not something that will go away, so suggesting that he give himself a little time to work out the words sounds like a good strategy. I often ask the other person to repeat what the said, only to have my brain magically assemble the sounds into words before they’ve finished doing so. :-/

      1. That makes a lot of sense thank you. We have a younger son who tends to talk over him so we make sure we give them turns to speak so he is heard. He has also started a mild stutter at the end of words called dysfluency. I think that too is part of the processing lag.

  22. I was referenced to this post from Emma’s Hope Book. I now see why she created a link to it through her own post. This is amazing! To read through the eyes of someone personally experiencing autism is powerful. I think it helps to create awareness better than any psychologist, therapist, mom (like myself), trying to do so. Thank you for sharing! Next week I am doing a week of favorites on my blog. I would love to feature this post!

  23. It’s only recently that I’ve realized just how much my lack of eye contact, at times, during conversation could bother a person. How have I realized this? Because my three year old has developed the habit of physically grabbing my face and turning it so that I’m looking at her, every time my eyes/face strays away. Ouch. =/

    1. I guess she wants to make sure you’re paying attention to her! 🙂 Typical kids are hardwired for eye contact so it must be an instinctual thing. My daughter has quite a few autistic habits/traits that she picked up from me growing up. We never really realized it until she became an adult and was completely out on her own and people started commenting on them. At least she can “correct” them fairly easily.

  24. i haven’t read all of the comments, so forgive me if this was already addressed.

    when i meet a new person, i generaly always presume competance. but, then things happen, which make me wonder–do they need me to slow down? do they understand what i am saying? people don’t come with a manual that has all of this info about them; boy that would be helpful! i do the best i can to guage what they need from me, but i often just don’t know. and i worry about embarrassing someone by asking. so, sometimes i assume. i slow down my speech. i check in to see if they’ve understood. after reading your post i kinda feel like a jerk for doing that. but, what am i SUPPOSED to do? everyone is different, and i am just doing the best i can.

    1. The way I sort of see it… I cannot blame others for not understanding my needs if I don’t tell them about my needs. That’s my responsibility. When I tell them about my needs and they continue to ignore them or they make assumptions about other things based on that need, they’re being asses.

      So, ask. You might think that’s embarrassing. But if someone genuinely asks you, “Please tell me what I can do to make your life easier?”, don’t you agree that that’s actually pretty nice to hear? Not someone asking “do you need me to slow down?”, because that’s already presuming I’m incapable of following them. It’s like someone coming into your house and immediately start cleaning it. You’d feel like they are judging you for not keeping your house clean, am I right? But if they ask you if there’s something they can help you with, you can say something like “well, actually I’d love a hand with the dishes!” and it would be about your need, not about your inability to do the dishes.

      1. actually, if you came into my house and started cleaning i would kiss your feet! i am kidding, kind of, and i see your point. i will make an effort to ask people what they need, even if i am worried about embarrassing them. thanks for taking the time to respond!

        1. I’m that annoying person who doesn’t practise what they preach, lol. The past year, and especially as I’m starting to understand more about my autism, I’m trying my best to not barge into people’s lives with unsolicited advice. I’m learning how to ask first. It’s pretty hard to do! So I think you’re a pretty awesome human being for trying and for being so aware. 🙂

          1. thank you! this is not completely new territory for me, a lot of people in my life are on the spectrum, and if you ask my sister, i am too! however, i still have a lot to learn and i need to get better at asking each individual i come across what works for them.

            i’ve read your blog too, and have really enjoyed it. it’s very relateable!

    2. I think it’s fine to go ahead and ask if someone understands but if you ask once and then say yes, then it’s unnecessary to continue asking, which people often do. It’s also fine to ask if they need you to slow down, but slowing down isn’t the only accommodation for someone who is having difficulty following spoken words so it’s probably more appropriate to ask what you could do to help make the information need to convey more accessible. For example, I find it much easier to learn to do something if I can watch it being done or do a trial run with supervision while receiving a verbal description of the steps.

  25. I don’t mind if people think I’m “a little slow” because I am in some ways. I just want them to understand the distinction between taking longer to process things, and having an intellectual deficit. What you’re doing is wonderful, and I hope to inspire others in similar ways with my openness about my ASD. Kudos.

  26. Thank you for this (just clicked “follow,” by the way). I often find myself stuttering, tripping over my own words, pausing for lengthy periods of time, and I can see that shift in the other person and get very anxious. The moment of, “OMG, they think I’m stupid. Super.” My boyfriend and I, when our relationship was new, got in a lot of fights. In conversation, he kept repeatedly asking me, “Does that make sense?” until I finally blew up and started yelling at him! I told him to “just assume I understand that relatively simple thing you’re referring to unless I say otherwise.” He often remarked that I looked “confused.” Apparently, I wear a confused facial expression a lot (the same one I always think means thinking, processing, considering, etc). Also, people apparently need a lot of verbal confirmation that I am listening, so I learn how to do this by watching more socially adept people converse so I can kind of judge appropriate moments to interject such personally meaningless things as, “oh, yeah?” “right” “really?” “uh-huh” “mmhm” and “wow.”

  27. Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate description of the situation. I just want to add my appreciation. My husband has recently been diagnosed and while we have over our 12 year marriage worked out how to work with this difference in what he calls “processor speed” it is very helpful to have your experience so beautifully communicated. You do indeed deserve great respect and accommodation.

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