In the comments on the Why Talking is Hard post, a few people mentioned that they have a tendency to repeat themselves when speaking and, oh boy, can I relate to that. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my tendency to say things over and over to someone, because it’s a rather embarrassing habit to have as an adult.
The underlying causes are probably a bit different for each of us, but I’ve come up with a few ideas about why autistic people are often prone to repetitive speech:
This feels like the most obvious culprit. Once we get started on a favorite subject, look out. We just can’t seem to stop, even when it’s obvious that the other person is getting bored or uncomfortable. Part of infodumping is often going over the same facts or stories repeatedly, as if we aren’t sure the other person is really grasping why this subject is so freakin’ awesome.
Poor inhibition is a component of impaired executive function–a plain old lack of ability to put the brakes on speech. Infodumping or monologuing about a special interest feels closely related to poor inhibition. Repeating the same information within an infodump is likely an extension of the phenomenon that leads to infodumping in the first place.
Basically it’s all one big case of “Help–I’m talking and I can’t stop!”
This is more of a “broken record” kind of repetition. It’s asking someone the same question or making the same statement over and over, even though the other person has already answered or acknowledged it.
I do this a lot to The Scientist, especially in relation to making plans.
“Let’s run tomorrow morning.”
Ten minutes later: “Tomorrow is a running day, right?”
A half hour later: “I want to run in the morning. Oh, wait, I said that already, didn’t I?”
Which doesn’t stop me from wanting to say it another ten times as the evening wears on. With practice I’m learning to silently think the question or statement and then remind myself that it’s already been answered. That works in a mostly-but-not-always kind of way.
This aspect of repetitive speech feels like lack of inhibition combined with compulsive thinking.
This is the one that eventually earns an exasperated “Would you just let it go already?!” response from whoever happens to be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. It’s the kind of repetition that other people quickly tire of because it comes across as irrational and anxiety-laden. A worst-case scenario that just won’t die.
Catastrophizing = poor inhibition + perseveration + anxiety.
Normally, when I repeat myself in a perseverative way, the other person’s response temporarily quiets the need to do it again. But when I’m catastrophizing, the other person’s response is unfulfilling and I continue to say the same thing in different ways, trying to elicit a more reassuring response. Which is impossible, because no response other than “yes, that highly unlikely disaster is sure to happen” would be satisfying.
Short term memory deficit
This one occurred to me while watching the videos that I made for my attempt at video blogging. At times, I simply forget that I’ve already said something or made a point. I forget what I was talking about, have talked about or wanted to talk about and get stuck in a loop of similar thoughts that keep coming out in slightly different ways.
I also noticed that I echolalically repeat myself, reusing phrases or words within a conversation. It’s hard to say why–maybe as touchstones or because they’re caught in my conversation buffer. The funny thing is, it’s rarely the same words or phrases that get repeated from one conversation to the next.
Missing social cues
I think sometimes I repeat myself because I’m not getting the social communication cues to confirm that the other person has heard me. I need very obvious cues, like verbal affirmation. The cues that work for typical people–sustained eye contact, affirmative body language–are usually lost on me.
If I don’t get the expected verbal affirmation, I keep repeating what I said until I’m sure the other person is getting my point. Closely related to this is the difficulty I often have in actually making my point verbally. In way, my repetition is an attempt to edit my spoken words after the fact, which I don’t think is how talking is supposed to work.
97 thoughts on “Let Me Repeat Myself”
Where all these behaviours arise for me (and they tend to arise around my ‘autistic’ ideas about how we should be engaging and providing for autistic students in the school at which I work), my default is to explain these behaviours on my part in terms of others not ‘getting’ the autistic points and perspective I am offering up.
I find that when I engage autistic students in a manner where they appear to ne judging that I am ‘getting’ their autistic points and perspectives, that these behaviours lessen in them. So, ultimately, I would view and understand these behaviours in terms of autistic persons living in a collective human world where allistic others do not yet get the autistic point of view.
I think this is often true for me too–I’m just not sure if I’m making sense or getting my point across so I keep trying. Relentlessly. 🙂
I do this too, until at some point I realise that I am repeating myself, always a little differently, and upon reflection, assume it’s because I am getting no response, so need to keep trying. Perhaps, all this time, I have been missing those social cues so obvious to others! Goodness!
I’m not completely sure about the missed social cues, but it feels like a contributor because I’ve noticed that when my husband gives me very clear affirmative responses (usually verbally) I’m more likely to stop repeating myself.
I agree. For me it is the number one reason why I repeat because I know that the other person is either not listening properly, or I am explaining in a way that is being misinterpreted. I notice that most people make an assumption about what you are going to say before you even finish saying it! But then most people tend to say the same things. People get thrown when you talk about something that is unexpected and they don’t know how to hear that. Hence the need for repetition.
People get thrown when you talk about something that is unexpected and they don’t know how to hear that.
Oh, I hadn’t thought about it this way, but yes! It does seem that a lot of conversation is semi-scripted or at least follows expected parameters.
Not just that, it’s the subjects that people talk about, and the way that they describe things that I find are different to me. Most people don’t seem to want to talk about deep stuff, like thoughts on life, science, philosophy, so it freaks them out if I do!
Also, words are just a pale substitute for the image heavy thoughts that are in my head and trying to share strong visual thoughts with words is confusing. I think using written or verbal language is a bit like listening to a play on the radio. You can hear the words but the visuals are missing. So often when I talk I’m trying to describe everything that I am thinking, trying to share the pictures you know?
Once again, I totally relate! I’m a pro at talking people to death at the grocery store (lately about kombucha making) and trying to have a “real” conversation with someone at a social event, and finding myself abruptly and awkwardly alone/ditched. It has happened enough times that I wonder if I should make a point of saying something “self-effacing” like “please stop me when you’ve heard enough on this subject, I am really excited about it!” I’d rather not assume a dimnuitive position, but short of warning someone up front, it seems that I am at a loss because it is usually after the fact that I recognize that the other person has heard enough. Perhaps I am actually trying to subvert the accepted convention that strangers are not expected to have meaningful connections (which I refuse to accept!) and my interactions are likely just a surprise to the other person’s expectations. I’d like to think that people in this day and age would cut one another some slack! Authenticity is hard to come by, so in the end, “take it or leave it, baby!” But, it still hurts when someone abruptly leaves a conversation.
I know what you mean about only realizing after the fact that the other person was losing interest. I seem to have only two conversational modes:very quiet/passive and can’t shut up.
I have noticed that I go into non-stop babble with those with whom I am uncomfortable, at the thought of which, afterwards, I could just die. I am extremely self-conscious and cannot bear the thought of my having yakked on and on!
And THEN I have to press replay over and over in my head to check what I said.
Oh, I do the babbling because I’m uncomfortable too! Followed by awkward laughter which is usually followed by awkward silence.
Another thing that I thought of when reading the “Short term memory deficit” paragraph: I often ‘prepare’ things I want to say in advance by talking out loud at home, and in general I tend to do a lot of talking to noone when I’m at home (kind of processing situations). This means that when I am talking to someone, I don’t know if I have actually said something already, or I only said it to ‘them’ at home when they weren’t there. So I could be repeating myself, thinking it’s the second situation.
Oh, this is a great point! I do this too, although more with thinking something through in detail than talking out loud. Sometimes I’ll say something to my husband then immediately ask him if I’d just said the same thing a few moments before because I’m no longer sure if I was thinking it or said it out loud.
Oh gosh me too! My thoughts are so real and vivid, I, too, am often not sure if I said it or thought it.
Petra, I do a lot of the “talking to no one” too! When people are around I try to turn it into a whisper, but it’s not as effective
Oh wow, that is a thing. I will often say to my husband or kids, did I already say that to you, or did I just think it? Or I say I told you that, a day, a week, a month ago and they swear that I did no such thing. I don’t talk as much out loud as I do in my head, practicing, rehearsing what I want to say, playing out different scenarios, allowing for and planning for conversations so I can fit in. I very well could be repeating myself, or have not said it yet. I’ll be double checking that a bit more in the future.
Interesting as my daughter has the opposite reaction. She HATES to repeat anything
I actually don’t like repeating myself in any of the situations I described and will often be annoyed when I catch myself doing it. And yet, it still happens quite frequently.
I can relate to every freaking point (though a little less to the short term memory thing than to all the other ones, which are basically the story of my life). Thanks for putting these things into a neat, organised essay, this makes it easier to tackle factors seperately!
So glad you were able to relate and found this helpful! Not sure how old you are but the short term memory thing definitely gets worse with age.
I’m in my mid-twenties right now. Sometimes my memory is crap, but I think it’s mostly due to health issues in combination with being distracted easily.
Short term memory is also a component of executive function, so if you have EF difficulties it could be related in part to that.
Lordy, I’m so worried about that. I’m not sure how I’ll stay employed with a memory that’s worse than the one I’ve got! I guess I need to play a lot of memory games now, and get the habit set up…
One day I kept repeating, I’m so confused! I’m so confused! to anything I was confused about. I think that was a result of stress and poor inhibition. I was in a completely new situation, so I defaulted to an old habit of repeating the same thing over and over again. I was definitely, for lack of a better word, confused, but I didn’t know how to problem-solve my way out of it. Nor did I think about other ways to convey the same thing.
I do that sometimes when I’m in distress. Looking back on those times, the repetition feels like kind of a meta commentary on the general situation. Maybe even a stim?
Oh! This is so much like me. I’m chuckling at the comments, because your experiences are so like my own. Help– I’m talking and I can’t stop. And the 2 modes. Very quiet or can’t shut up. Oh, how I wish that I had known decades ago that others are like me, too. So many tears shed and so much frustration in years past. And now, I’m chuckling about it. Still, it’s sad, because I think about what might have been worthy friendships and relationships with co-workers and acquaintances if only I could have known about my habits and tendencies. Not that I could have stopped myself; but with more self-awareness perhaps some things could have had less destructive impact upon my life.
By the way, my Asperger husband and I are celebrating 38 years of marriage (and 40 years of goin’ steady.) Today.
Congratulations! That is awesome!
Congratulations! That is PRETTY GOOD going! And many more to you too!
Congratulations on your anniversary! What a great milestone. 🙂
I know exactly what you mean about the self-awareness being helpful, even if it’s still hard to do anything about these habits at times. Sometimes it helps to just be able to look at something and know why it happened. Acceptance is a powerful thing.
What about for eexample: im talking and repeat something because in my mind it sounded like i said it wrong and the person im talking to didnt know what i meant even though they did so i end up repeating the part that didnt come out right to me but was actually just fine to the person i was talking to
Yep, I think this is what I meant at the end by trying to edit what I’ve already said by repeating it in slightly different ways.
This post caught my attention. I never considered my tendency to repeat myself as anything to do with Aspergers, but it makes sense. We are a family full of Aspies, especially females on the spectrum. We are over-talkers, over-sharers, interrupters, and dramatic catastrophizers. I am also big on verbal-processing. But, one trait that I always considered positive, as much as negative, is our story-telling. We can make the most mundane event into a side-splitting tale. As a family, we crack ourselves up daily. It is a much healthier means to vent our feelings about an uncomfortable situation or challenges faced, if they are told as a funny story. But, when I was younger, and working in a supervisory position, I received a less than positive review about my behavior during staff meetings. This was the very first time that anyone had ever pointed out these tendencies in terms of impact in the work place. My boss wanted me to quit telling stories…just give her the information straight up. She wanted me to stop repeating myself…repeatedly. And she wanted me to stop identifying with the staff I supervised. It all came as a shock to me. But, after feeling squirmy and miserable with what felt like horrible criticism, I thought about her comments. I was unaware that I had done these things, and I had never thought about how those traits lengthened and bogged down the meeting process. I was trying to be entertaining to my co-workers and understanding and supportive of my staff. But the “repeating” issue felt very uncomfortable. I realized it was connected with insecurity. If I was unsure about something, I definitely wanted feedback to know if I were on the right track. Most uncomfortable was realizing that if I said something funny or clever, I liked to say it again, to hear the laughter again. It was a kind of affirmationthat I had made a good social interaction.
It’s interesting that something you found to be such a strength and source of joy at home had such a negative impact at work. It sounds like your home is very neurodiverse and the workplace was much more businesslike and dry.
if I said something funny or clever, I liked to say it again, to hear the laughter again. It was a kind of affirmationthat I had made a good social interaction.
I’ve always wondered why autistic people are prone to telling the exact same jokes and funny stories repeatedly and you answered that question perfectly. Thank you! This makes so much sense.
Oh holy cow, this. A thousand times this! I find I HAVE to crack irreverent jokes in team meetings, often multiple times, and even though I know I’m doing it and that it’s not appropriate, I just can’t stop myself. My coworkers pretty much just sigh and move on now. It’s humiliating.
my short term memory gets the best of me in story telling or a story type joke. It’s rather incoherent and directionless with usually me ending by saying “oh nevermind, I don’t know where I was going with that” OR by me repeating a portion of the joke/story multiple times until I have found the perfect combination of English words to get my point across exactly as I wish, which by that time, the listener is bored haha! I am glad some of us can be great, expressive story tellers, however for some of us, our talents lie elsewhere 😛
This blog is so helpful to me. My husband, 61 years old, recently discovered he has AS. I am NT, and for years I thought I was going crazy. I am glad I found this blog because I really want to support him as much as I can. Those days when we were talking in our two different languages were frustrating for both of us.
I’m so glad you found it too! I can totally relate to that feeling of speaking two different languages in a relationship. Understanding more about each other can go a long way toward learning how to translate and closing that gap somewhat.
Thank you. I just bet you can relate. Blessings to you.
I’ll mention something multiple times because I can’t remember if I told that person yet. Like the fact that a particular road leads to a favorite spot or a house we may be passing belonged to a “klondike ike”. I love history and places. I’d probably be a good tour guide. I want to share the information with others but sadly don’t remember who I told. My husband hates this because I’ll tell him stuff again and again.
I bet you would be a great tour guide! That’s exactly what tour guides do–repeat funny or interesting stories every single day all day long. 🙂
I’m sure aspies can be great guides. I’m training to become one at the moment and I feel that I have finally found something I’m good at ! What’s even more wonderful is that I’m feeling for the first time to be really part of a group (i.e. the other trainee-guides) and not being an outsider. Our teacher warns us every now then that it may become boring to tell the same story over and over again but then I wonder how it can ever become boring to keep repeating a good story.
I can relate to a lot of the other stuff in this post and comments (I’m running a monologue interieure all day long, either in silence when there are people around or talking out loud when I’m sure nobody can hear me), but just like with other posts it strikes me how much I do recognize my wife in these comments. I’m usually able to suppress my urge to repeat but my wife is a big repeater.
Until a few months ago I didn’t ever think of her as a possible autistic but your blog made wonder if she might be on the spectrum. It could explain why we do understand eachother so well while both of us have a problem to get along well with other people.
That’s awesome! Your outlook sounds perfect for the job and it’s cool that you’ve found a group to belong to.
Your last paragraph makes so much sense to me. My husband isn’t autistic but we recently realized that he isn’t entirely neurotypical either and I think that’s why we connected so well from the start.
I recognize myself most in the last three: catastrophizing, short term memory deficit, and missing social cues. I am the queen of repeating myself because I can’t remember if I said that part already. Also (like others, I see) I’ll rehearse situations beforehand and then can’t remember if I mentioned that section during the ‘real thing’. I talk to myself all the time. All the time. Oh, the things I’m learning!
I’m yet another case of the girl who never fit in, didn’t really understand why, but growing up was smart and quiet and coped and passed for normal. Now that I’m getting a little older (37), I’m increasingly less able to manage various situations. Eventually it became obvious that I wasn’t just “shy” and “stressed”. Between this blog (which I binge-read front to back) and some internet quizzes (many which you reviewed) it didn’t take long to figure out why; I’m autistic or awfully darn close. (Possibly also are my mother, grandfather, and 6-year-old daughter.)
I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing here, the knowledge and experience you share with us, and the community you’ve fostered. This is such a wonderful resource and I’m so grateful for it.
I’m so glad you took the time to de-lurk and let me know you’re reading. 🙂 I was around your age when things started to fall apart for me too. It’s either aging or the beginnings or menopause or both that seem to push so many women our age into the realization that our coping strategies are no longer cutting it.
It’s great to hear that you’re finding an explanation for your differences and resources to help you navigate the self-discovery process. The folks who comment here are amazing and have so much to share.
Also, it wouldn’t be at all unusual for you to have a bunch of family members on the spectrum as well since autism tends to have a genetic component.
This is the number one reason I have a hard time keeping friends. Everything else I can sorta manage or at least camouflage successfully, but not this.
Aww, I know what you mean. 😦
When I am uncomfortable with someone I get stuck on repeat and I have all these things in my head I need and want to say, but I cant figure out how to get them out. So if it is something important, I feel embarrassed and upset because my point never got across, or they only heard the FIRST part of the issue (4-6 times). It has caused meltdowns in the past cause the conversation in my head is so articulate and brilliant, but I end up talking like a 2 year old. My son says the same thing 4-8 times in a row, only SOMETIMES will he stop if we repeat or acknowledge him. I try so hard to not show frustration when he is stuck on repeat. I know how much I get upset about it, I do not need him to know that he is bothering me. He will also ask the same things throughout the day, even though he knows the answers too the questions. I just keep answering them and try to find ways for him to answer them as to redirect his question to himself. Sometimes, that helps him to stop asking which is a relief to me, his dad and probably to himself as well.
I have many arguements escapled because the person keeps interuppting me so I have to continue to replay what I want to say word for word. If I have something planned out, I need to say it exactly the way I have planned or it wont make sense. So if someone keeps interrupting me, and then telling me I keep repeating myself, its because I have not gotten my idea out yet as a whole.
I was loving that word “escapled”. Wondering what you meant by it if it was spelt correctly. Wondering what had led you to misspell if you had.
Some of my misspellings or missgrammaticals or missed-out words, stem from me thinking several things at the one time, or changing what I’m trying to say as a sentence is on its way out.
I can see how your finger dropped a row and one to the left on QWERTY, with ‘p’ rather than ‘l’. Then the ‘led’ seems part of a word other than ‘escalate’; different tense even.
My autistic aspect sees me always running two parallel meaning streams. Sometimes I don’t keep the two sufficiently separate; and then I can get things wrong in conventional terms.
There’s the meaning stream that has to do with how I sense and think about things. Then there’s the meaning-stream of what of that I can get away with saying, revealing, sharing; and that varies from person to person. Very little of what I exchange freely with others online, about the autistic, could I freely share with my work colleagues; I have to in that latter situation be very careful to say only what sees me able to present myself as competent. I press the envelope on this; but I can’t allow others to see me as having ‘lost the (professional) plot’. So I have to say what I need to say, in ways that prevent others seeing me in reductive deficit/impairment terms.
I’m then intrigued by what others are here saying about ‘short-term memory’ and rehearsing and recalling. I think I’m so taken up with running the two meaning-streams, that I have to neglect aspects of engagement that others would call ‘social’. I think that sees me not even trying to do some short-term memory stuff that connects with what is social; the long-term aspect of managing the two streams of meaning, takes such priority.
I can do short-term memory stuff after the event, offline as it were. I tend to have to do that in writing. So I can use my longer-term memory performance to go back and fill-in what others might do with short-term memory. With enough reason to do it, I can after the event generate a pretty accurate transcription of what everyone said, in quite complex events; although I find the emotional side of doing this very challenging, and even distressing very-often.
Some people now call short-term memory, working-memory. Maybe the working-memory concept better models things for autistic persons
the conversation in my head is so articulate and brilliant, but I end up talking like a 2 year old
I can so relate to this! There are so many situations where I wish I could just do a Vulcan mind meld with the other person and not have to verbalize what’s in my head.
It’s good that you’re able to patiently support your son when he’s perseverating on something. The repeated questioning thing is very frustrating to me and I wonder if it isn’t more of an OCD trait. Although it’s commonly mentioned as an autistic trait as well.
As I understand it, OCD traits are part of the diagnostic criteria for ASD.
ASD and OCD share some traits in common but OCD is also it’s own separate condition, which can be co-occurring with autism. For people who have both, it can be hard to sort out which one is responsible for certain tendencies and so I’m always trying to compare my experience to that of people on the spectrum who don’t have OCD to differentiate a bit between the two.
Sarah, this is a beautiful description of a less than beautiful feeling and situation I might show it to my boyfriend to help me explain why I get like I do. Too much of this and I end up shutting down completely or in a sobbing embarrassed mess.
I love the way you help your son. I have that repeating questions thing sometimes and I bet it does annoy others. It annoys me when I realise I’m doing it, but I can feel so disorientated and confused it’s hard not to.
This is so overwhelmingly exactly ‘me’ – all I can say is your writing amazed me. Another instance where I had no idea I wasn’t alone. Thanks, much.
😀 You’re very welcome. The comments about this on my “Talking is Hard” post made me feel the same way.
Oh boy, this is so me. I get so repetitive… when I am happy and excited about something, when i’m stressed, when I’m trying to make a point, when I forgot I’ve said the exact thing one minute ago… it drives people nuts. Some people handle it better than others. I tend to be a lot more talkative in general with people I know well, so they are the ones who really ‘suffer’ :P. I am usually only aware I’m doing it when somebody points it out, then I feel bad. A non-subtle signal I have received more than once, from different people who do not know each other, is a “talking hand” gesture where the forefinger and thumb “talk” in the air, accompanied by chicken noises. It’s not one of my favorites, and if it’s “happy talking” it puts a stop to that quite fast. The worst repetition is when I’m trying to get a point across that I care strongly about… it’s like I’ll lay it out, then gauge the person’s response to see if they completely understand me, and if it seems they don’t (like if they haven’t come round to my viewpoint :D), I begin round 2, in a slightly different way. With each round, I seem to sort of clarify what it is I’m saying, so if I don’t make any sense at first, eventually I do, as I keep refining it. Unfortunately usually the person gets so tired of this they often just agree anything to make me stop talking, which is deeply unsatisfying if they don’t REALLY get what I’m saying but just can’t stand it anymore. I have sometimes done advance preparation for speaking on important topics by writing it out in advance. I do the same repetition thing, though it’s easier for me to write clearly than to speak clearly, but then I can edit it a bit to remove repeated points. Being aware that other people don’t react well to me reading my thoughts from my notepad, I only resort to this in extreme situations… usually I try to rehearse the succint message that says it all so clearly that I eventually got to, instead. However, needless to say the amount of time that goes into this only works with lots of advance preparation, so it’s only for conversations of great importance. If it’s a conversation I can’t have right when I think of it, I don’t write it down, the conversation will keep circling in my head for continued improvement (and so I don’t forget) until I actually have the conversation.
It’s interesting that so many of us have repetitive speech but the reasons and experiences of it are all slightly different. Your need to get the conversation right and get the other person to see your point of view sounds like a hard thing thing to satisfy because I can see people losing patience for it (and have experienced this myself at times). So frustrating.
Thank you so much for this post. My partner and I have recently had some really in-depth conversations about talking to each other. I always over-think what I’ve said to him because there are times that he’s misunderstood me in the past, mainly because my tone of voice or facial expression doesn’t akways match my words and sometimes because my thoughts get jumbled. But now we’re aware of it, whenever I check what I’ve said with him or say the same thing again but in a different way, he always reassures me that he understands what I said and I said it the right way. It has saved a LOT of arguments over imagined slights.
Finding a system that works with a partner is such a relief. It’s great that you’ve been able to identify the potential problem areas and work out a good strategy with your partner.
Over the last year, my husband and I have made substantial changes in the way we have certain types of conversations. Now we’re much more likely to talk about how we’re conveying information in an important conversation and to check in with each other when we’re in doubt or struggling to understand something. And we make way fewer assumptions, which in itself seems to improve conversation quality.
Hmmm . . . this could be a post, couldn’t it? 🙂
Recently, I have just noticed that my Aspie husband and I have not been communicating well. About the simplest things. I have felt that I am in a different space and time-warp area. Or something. Well, maybe it has something to do with his hearing loss. Anyway, his hearing loss combined with our autistic traits is making some strangely improvised dialogs. Humor helps, but sometimes it can take so long to unscramble what was missed or left out. I’m doing mental acrobatic maneuvers just to get a grocery list done. I am interested in how our aging Asperger/autistic peers are coping. Many (most) of us do not have a formal diagnosis. Now I’m rambling…
Sometimes my husband and I communicate via text, so there is no misunderstanding.
This is a huge issue for me right now, after many years of marriage (who’d have thought?!). I have come to understand many of the dynamics that are creating the issues but struggling to know how to find a way to respond. Neither of us have been through diagnosis but I have had some informal conversations with a professional about it, the likely conclusion being that I am probably not on the spectrum, I think maybe borderline, but my partner quite clearly is. I have found fabulous sites like this which help me gain a lot of insight, but what I haven’t found and feel I need is to hear the experiences of people with Aspie partners and how they navigate these issues. Does anyone have any recommendations?
My recent communication difficulties have created a similar problem for my husband and I. At least a few times a day I’ll give up on trying to figure out he means and just say “I don’t know what you’re saying.” That’s his cue to start over in a different (usually simpler with more context) way. It’s gotten to the point where at times he’ll say, “I’m going to talk about a different topic now” before changing the topic of conversation because I have so much trouble recognizing a seque to a new subject. He also sometimes frames the topic before he asks a question so that I can get my brain going in the right direction.
It’s requiring a lot of adaptations and thinking about how we communicate, which is frustrating at times. I think age is probably at least part of the issue and I too am very curious about how age and autism intersect. It really shouldn’t feel like we’re in such uncharted territory.
Another great topic. I can identify.
However, I also think a lot of people repeat themselves these days. People are so distracted and multitasking that they often don’t pay attention to what they themselves are saying. And I find that annoying because I’m expending energy on and attention on them, and they are being disrespectful of me by not being aware of what they’re saying. And then the problem for me is how to politely convey to them that they keep saying he same thing over and over. I try to paraphrase back to them what they are saying to me and say that I understand what they are trying to say. But if they STILL keep it up after that (and it’s not on some sensitive topic) I’ll sometimes say something abrupt and change the topic. Maybe I’m partly the cause of the problem because maybe I’ve been in people pleasing mode and am not conveying to them that they should move on.
My father (who I suspect is on the spectrum) used to talk and talk and I had to put up with it, and I’m not good about dealing with it on a peer to peer level, on the receiving end. I’ll sometimes just listen and listen like a doormat, or I shut it down.
So I’m aware of the phenomenon from both sides. I’m usually aware when I’m repeating or innfodumping (and it’s usually with friends) and I’ll apologize and say “I’ll shut up soon” or “thank you for indulging me” because honestly I’m usually so well behaved that I have this stuff pent up and it feels so GOOD to let it out.
Not sure if this is making sense, or maybe I just sound like a jerk.
I think you’re right about people being repetitive due to distraction or perhaps having so many social channels open that they forget who they’ve told what to. And what you said here totally makes sense to me. It seems like your experience with your dad influences how much patience you have for listening to people repeat themselves and talk endlessly about a subject that doesn’t interest you. It sounds like you use active listening tools to try to move the conversation along but that doesn’t necessarily always work, in which case a more blunt change of subject is probably your only option.
I wonder if perhaps you body language is conveying a message that is different from your verbal “I understand” affirmation? I’ve noticed that people often think I’m confused when I’m not and so they just keep explaining the same thing to me long after I’ve gotten the point.
You raise a good point and that could be part of what’s happening.
I have a parent who talks and talks and talks, too. As soon as he sees anyone he knows, he will choose a topic, free of context (that is, the topic has nothing to do with the situation at hand) and go–from international politics to the stock market to how best to wash dishes by hand. My siblings and mother and I have struggled to understand what he wants from us in these situations, and since ASD was never on the table as a topic of discussion in my childhood, we settled for ignoring him, with a few nods now and then, as it didn’t seem to matter if we truly listened or not, and it was emotionally and mentally exhausting to us to pay attention for as long as he would talk. As an adult, my siblings and I are very aware of when we might be talking too much and afraid of doing so, because we don’t want to confuse and alienate people the way we were confused and eventually alienated by our father’s behavior and our inability to understand it as children.
I’m not sure how to deal with that, the ‘fear of becoming’ or ‘fear of being’ one’s parent. It’s a tough issue, because on the one hand, I now know my father isn’t ‘choosing’ to be ‘weird.’ He didn’t deliberately reject and confuse others in the family. But on the other hand, I watch him and see someone who sabotaged the closest human relationships he had, even if the sabotaging wasn’t deliberate; he occupies a funny still space in the middle of our family (symbolized literally by his home office), where no one really dares to venture because our experiences of ‘interacting with Dad’ involve unpredictable outbursts or frustration on both sides when we try to engage in activities one side enjoys and understands but the other finds confusing and irritating.
I’m not sure how one deals with that fear! The fear of acting like someone I/you know I/you should feel empathy and compassion for, but whom I/you harbor old wounds from. It is a consuming fear.
This is probably something that most of us face to a degree. It’s inevitable that we’ll see aspects of our parents in ourselves and some of those might be hard to face or unpleasant. I think you and your siblings have a good “head start” in the sense that you’re aware of what you father does that you’d like to avoid doing and are conscious of your behavior in that area. Family is so complicated.
It really is! The thing is my family is essentially good and has been good to me. I want things to be okay and I think everyone else in my family does, too. The hard trick is finding the right coping mechanisms all the way around to find a balance. I suppose it’s no more a work-in-progress than all families are, to some degree.
I see myself in a number of your observations in this post. Most often I’ve thought that, for me, these behaivours stem from a need for evidence-based communications. When I have to rely on remembering, I often realise I have no way to test why I remember or believe something and then panic sets in since I have no way of “proving” that moment. Welcome, reptition.
Great post. Thanks for sharing this.
This is really thought provoking! I can definitely see a need for hard evidence as being a source of repetition for me that I hadn’t considered. I’m very much an “out of sight, out of mind” person and need concrete reminders that things are true and that they exist.
I find I tent to rely too heavily on candor and seemed wired toward “knowing what I’m talking about”. I do think that drives my need to infodump (when I find something I do know something about, I get so excited about it and just want to share it) and when I get into territory where I’m unsure I tend toward a state like panic.
It’s certainly a subject I’m keen to observe more in myself in an effort to better understand how I am.
“out of sight out of mind”.. so glad you said that. It fits nicely with a theory or viewpoint I am developing.
Thanks so much for this article, and all the other ones! As a parent and as a therapist, you’re doing such a fantastic job translating your experience so that I can better communicate and empathize with my son and with my clients. Just last night, in fact, my son was espousing on his views on atheism in the midst of a minor meltdown while working on a school project. Let’s just say your article helped me understand where he was coming from 🙂
And they say we’re bad at multitasking! 🙂
This was so me! I love all your posts. Funny enough though I find I get two polarizing reactions. I get laughter and adoration from some people ( like even my bank teller ADORES me and random strangers seem magnetized to me…esp kids and animals) and think I am funny and then I have some neighbours, certain strangers and people who strongly dislike me and my communication no matter how appropriate I try to be. Of course I still have communication issues with my husband and close people to but it always works out, but I have noticed with the strangers and neighbours that it is a CLEAR personality issue on THIER end that makes them either receptive to me or not. I started noticing that the neighbours and strangers who disliked me seemed to be the proper, conservative, and type who fits into Monoculture perfectly. They tend to be structured, cranky ( in general) lack humour and seem to be caught up in cultural norms and rules. The strangers who are receptive are usually innocent and even if they follow cultural norms they seem to have inherent grace and reach the world with humour, peace, tolerance and kindness. I have realized no matter what I try those who are not receptive to me are not worth many words or time anymore ( just the basics) and that I am still “my normal.” I am grateful for the people who let me be me. This post is def something I will read to my husband as we have had a few communication issues lately:)
Yes to all of this! I know exactly what you mean and have experienced the same thing with regard to getting very opposite reactions from different types of people. I can’t say people are magnetized to me but I’ve had people tell me that I’m very kind, understanding, etc. I’ve also had people tell me that I seem cold, unfriendly, etc. In my case, I think it’s often a matter of whether I feel comfortable or guarded around the person to begin with that determines how much of the real me I let them see. However, I know that I rarely feel comfortable around very normative judgmental people.
Your post continue to inform and enlighten me! I am so appreciative!
Thank you 🙂
“But when I’m catastrophizing, the other person’s response is unfulfilling and I continue to say the same thing in different ways, trying to elicit a more reassuring response. Which is impossible, because no response other than “yes, that highly unlikely disaster is sure to happen” would be satisfying.”
Oh, heavens, this. People don’t understand (likely because I don’t tell them…) that when I’m panicking about how bad something could be, what I want is for someone to agree with me that yes, it really could be that bad. Once we’ve both agreed to that, then I feel like my feelings are not irrational, broken, or stupid, and I can ask them to help me plan through what I will do if things do turn out that badly. I don’t really want to be reassured, except in the sense that I want to be reassured that my feelings and perceptions are not entirely false. Part of how I broke my marriage was by pressing my ex too hard for this kind of reassurance; I wanted her to know and acknowledge that leaving the U.S. would feel to me at least partially like a catastrophe that I might lack the resources to deal with. I needed her to sit down with me and say, yes, it could be very, very hard and nasty and then help me pick through the steps of relocating, anyway. Instead I got reassurance that it wasn’t that bad and that things would be easy. Which, for me, drove a stake into my trust of both her and myself–I was left thinking “Was she right? Was it easy and I was too dumb or broken or weird or selfish to accept that?” or “Am I right? And she’s too forceful and self-centered to acknowledge that it might not be easy?”
I’m still not sure how to trust without doubting that I’m trusting only out of a desire to be lifted out of my perseverative thinking, not out of trust well-earned.
And also, man, aging. I am so worried about aging, I could scream. I see my father getting floatier and less precise in his motions and holing up more and more in the basement, where he absorbs information like a sponge and views himself as a misunderstood genius as he ages, and I see my own clinging desire to drop out of society and live somewhere in the middle of nowhere with a pack of dogs and no work… And I don’t know how I’ll keep hold of my life, in the long term, without feeling constant contempt for myself, and a constant sense of being delusional, of waiting things I can’t have and perceiving myself in inaccurate ways.
Aging can be scary. I’m finding unknowns of autistic aging to be especially vexing. I guess if you’re lucky it’s equal parts terror and grace. And I totally get that urge to live in the middle of nowhere with a pack of dogs. That’s pretty much my ideal retirement. That, or something solitary like manning a fire tower in the Rockies. No idea what I’d do in the winter though . . .
Perhaps it would help to tell the people closest to you how your process works? You describe it really clearly here and it sounds like if someone is able to support you in the way you needs, it’s actually a very effective way of not only planning for the worst and creating a sense of security but also of working through all the necessary non-disastrous steps of a big change.
Equal parts terror and grace is an oddly reassuring way to think about it. Thank you. And, yes, the lighthouse/fire tower fantasy! I think I’ve had it since back when I used to read books like My Side of the Mountain as a kid.
I should tell them, you’re right. I’m still at a point where I’m ashamed to admit I need more/different than other people need. It seems like working those needs into the way I live my life from here on out (that is, considering myself and my needs as *part* of doing well by and for others, not as *preventing* me from doing well by and for others) might be the way to go. Then I can get used to having needs as I live, and build those needs into new relationships I form.
Sounds easy on paper 😉
Aw, I know, it’s hard to talk about stuff sometimes. I still feel uncomfortable asking for accommodations but I’m trying to remember that like you said, it’s helpful to both parties in the end. It’s all a very slow methodical process for me and I think it’s important that we approach it at our own pace.
I think you’re very right. Slow and careful is a good way to do things.
Oh for god sake, is nothing about me actually me anymore? I feel like your shadow or clone or something!
Thank you for this post and in particular the “Why talking is hard” one, which I could relate to a lot. It’s great that I can come somewhere where I know I have a voice 🙂
I find it hard to talk. If I’m in a group I don’t join in the conversation, I don’t talk at all unless someone asks me something. I lose interest in the conversation and stop paying attention. If I’m with a person I find it hard to make any sort of conversation because I can’t think of things to say. I seem to almost completely lack the impulse to talk, unless I need to communicate with them about a specific matter. I’ve read many comments from other people on the spectrum here and elsewhere that they tend to monologue and that a part of their communication problems lies in the fact that they lack inhibition when it comes to talking, but I don’t fit this description at all – quite the opposite. My problem is that I don’t talk enough in social situations. It’s almost as if there is a physical barrier between me and the other people, and it feels as if I’m watching everything on TV – my mind is a complete blank and I see everything as it through glass. I see them laughing, talking, joking in an unbroken flow, and I’m not a part of this, I don’t feel this. Often I sit all the way through a social event such as a dinner without saying a word. I have special interests, but no desire to talk to others about them, unless they share the interest (rare) – it that case I will gladly share my knowledge. I think that people find me boring because I don’t talk unless asked a question (I say “I think” because I never know what other people think of me unless they tell me directly, which they never do out of politeness), and this is one of the reasons I have difficulties building up relationships with others. I do have opinions, can talk and need to do it for work, but I find it extremely tiring and have to build in breaks between each session (I’m a private tuition teacher). I seem to live almost entirely in my head and resent any intrusion into it. Talking means leaving the inner world of my head in order to engage with and enter the world of the other person, and this is a huge effort. I always feel very awkward when talking to people, and somehow disconnected both from the other person and myself, as if it’s not me who is talking, but my disengaged voicebox. When I’m socialising, people keep making ironic jokes about my not talking or telling me to “say something” – but say what? It makes me feel awkward and bad about myself. Sometimes I wonder if I really am on the spectrum, because others on the spectrum are very different to me when it comes to talking. (I have been diagnosed with AS).
I do the same, relying almost entirely on the other person to carry the conversation if I’m anything less than in top form or if it’s very small talk-y. I’m more animated and proactive if the conversation is something I’m interested in, but mostly I’m reliant on asking questions that follow up with something the person has said. I rarely introduce new topics of conversation. Often, I’m very content with silence.
The physical barrier feeling really makes sense. I feel separated or removed from the situation a lot of the time in group situations.
I’m curious how you feel others on the spectrum are different from you with regard to talking? I totally relate to everything you’ve said here, except that if anything, some people perceive me as funny/oddly charming because I’m good at the occasional well timed sarcasm. But mostly I think people perceive me as eccentric or aloof.
I learn something new every day. I’m reading Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate in preparation for giving all of our kids a copy on Thursday and I came across the term ‘perseverative’ again. I wanted to understand it better and did a quick google search and was lead back to Musings of An Aspie and this post. Yet again I see myself, with a mixture of sadness, grief, and relief and understanding. Me again, one more thing for me to recognize and give thanks for this understanding.
As I read the description of re-running things, keeping things the same, and then moved on to “Catastrophizing” I had this sense of doing internal math – adding things up in my head and moving puzzle pieces, and could see what has been labeled OCD by health care providers who have treated me over the years, has in fact included a fair amount of catastrophizing.
It is not the same thing as OCD, which is what I thought it was. I had chalked the thoughts up to the anxiety that runs in the background at various levels and has for as long as I can remember. In fact it was constant worry about something bad happening ‘catastrophizing’, since I was little, and to make it worse, I have done my best not to say what I was thinking or feeling out loud because I was afraid that if I gave it voice, spoke whatever the worry was aloud, I would give it more power, make it more real. I can also see now that my dad in his fixation with death and dying was also ‘catastrophizing’. Who knew.
My black and white thinking, narrow view, did not let me see any other options, and, that what is more true, is that the world is a good place, and much more good is available, and takes place every moment of every day, including in my own world.
I even had a therapist say to me once that I had to let the worry go because I would empower it. How dare she! She had no clue or awareness that I was dealing with Aspergers. What she said could not be farther from the truth.
“Memory Deficit” I loved that one too! In recent years I have chalked this one up to peri-menopause and menopause. I’m not sure what I blamed it on when I was younger. PTSD maybe. In any case, I see me here too and realize that my list keeping is a good thing. In fact the judgements I had about it I am letting go. Other peoples comments, teachers, mentors, out the window! On my list for ordering this week, a roll of white board paper, ditto for chalkboard paper and year at a glance dry erase calender. Let the organizing begin! Thank you 🙂
I agree that there’s an internal difference between my OCD tendencies and my perseveration/catastrophizing tendencies. And oh my gosh, I’m so superstitious about not saying some things out loud because it might make them more likely to be true. Totally irrational, but there it is. I guess that part might be shades of OCD, but the origin of the thoughts feels different.
And just between you and me, I’m considering painting an entire wall of my office in chalkboard paint after the new year. The ultimate list making canvas!
I do this. In every way you have mentioned of repeating oneself. I think a lot of it for me is trying to articulate my thoughts in the best way possible. The thing i am hyperfocusing on just goes around in my mind and I think of another way of looking at it and just have to share. I think there is a bit of perfectionism in there too, like editing and re-working a piece of writing. I also am looking for more acknowledgement too i think than what i am gettting. So all really similar to things you touched on here.
I also find I summ up a lot of what other people say. Like if I am at the Dr, I will just have to summarise everything at the end that he/she said even though it is really not necessary at all. So repeating what other people have said, not just myself. Oh gees, I didn’t realise i was that bad before!
My mom always gets mad and irritated with me when I repeat myself a lot. It’s just that I’m either:
1) Not sure if she heard what I said.
2) Repeating it to myself to make sure I understood what I said,
or 3) Correcting the WAY I said something b/c I feel like the way I said it the first time didn’t feel right.
#3 might partially be because I’m a writer and I guess I have this tendency to need to to “edit” stuff. You know what I mean?
Drives my spouse crazy when I repeat myself. Then she berates me, so I just clam up.
Hi, I was recently diagnosed with autism about a year ago when I was 20 years old. A close friend of mine that has known me for 8 years noticed it when I went to visit her in Canada and she took me to a couple of her friends house and during the visits her friends noticed something different. I wouldn’t socialize too much with new people unless they start the conversation. She didn’t noticed because she has known for so long and she thought that was just how I was. It wasn’t until my 3rd visit that she suspected that I might have autism because she herself was researching autism because her family doctor suspected that her children might have it. During my visits in her home, I would sometimes be awake when everyone else was sleeping and I would sometimes count the details of an object and I would tell her and her husband the total of edges and corners and surfaces the objects have and that’s when she told me that I might have autism. I did research myself and I remembered when I was younger I had experienced all of the symptoms at some point in my life. Because even though I have bad short term memory sometimes, I have a good long term memory. But anyway, I came across this because I was looking up on Google if autistic people repeat themselves or some of the stories they share because I do that sometimes and I sometimes forget if I told that person the story and then I remember that I did when I’m already deep in explaining the story. So I just apologize to them when I do remember and I stop myself from continuing the story even though I want to keep going. And omg it took forever to write this because I like to put my opinions and express all the details and I go over my comments to make sure that it makes sense and I spelled correctly and I’m pretty sure most of my sentences are run ons but oh well. I like how I am.
Okay I realized that I’m not the only one with a long explanation lol. I feel bad if I talk for a long time and I don’t know the person/people too well. Usually I clam up but if I feel comfortable and if the person asks me questions and lets talk for that long, then I will.