“Words arrive at my ears in a vague, jumbled up way”
Are you on the autistic spectrum?
Do you have trouble working out what people are saying to you, understanding information and instructions?
Like many other autistic people, I usually have great difficulty in this area. If there is a lot of background noise, it becomes even harder to focus on what is being said.
Recently I heard someone describe this as “auditory dyslexia” and I thought this was a really good description of what happens.
So how does it feel to have this problem? Well, when someone is talking to me, their words arrive at my ears in a vague, jumbled up way. It takes me a while to unravel the words, and then turn them into something tangible that I can get some meaning from.
Usually by the time I have grasped even the slightest understanding from the persons first sentence, they are onto the next line then the next. It’s a game of verbal “catchup” and I gradually find myself falling further and further behind in the race to process the conversation. I often end up with only the vaguest idea of what the conversation is about.
This scenario is something that happens many times during the course of a day. It can be frustrating, disheartening and even embarrassing at times. Sometimes it feels as though there is a big “block” in my head, and nothing can get in, or out. And sometimes I am just to deep inside my mind and can’t find a way out.
It affects one’s social life and work life. It affects your confidence and self esteem. I have often shied away from potentially well paid jobs if I was scared I would not be able to follow verbal instructions in a stressful environment.
In other articles I have related stories of when I worked as corporate film maker for an advertising agency. I would regularly be required to attend meetings, where the creative director and his team would explain the concept for a new Heinz or Hard Rock Cafe, promo I was to produce. I perfected my use of a confident, knowing smile that masked completely the fact I was just not getting it.
Through my mental haze I would pick up on the occasional comment, and say something that sounded thoughtful and intelligent, and be designed to indicate I understood more than I really did. I had my “pretending to be normal” act down to a fine art. After a meeting I would do my best to mentally reassemble any of the bits of information I had been able to process.
After a while I’d secretly sneak a small portable recorder into a meeting. It was my safety net, and I was able to listen back at my leisure, to everything that had been said.
During my autism diagnosis, the psychologist explained to me, that my difficulties with poor short term memory and speech processing, were due to deficiencies in the part of the brain that handles “executive functions.”
Executive function, or dysfunction in my case, also means that I have great trouble with organisational skills, planning ahead and sequencing tasks.
I was very happy with this explanation, it means that I’m not “stupid” after all. It’s just that my brain is wired differently to other peoples. As long as I can find an effective way of communicating and understanding information, I can be just as “good” as any neuro typical.
So what is my solution?
- First of all, I do my best to accept that I have difficulty processing information the way everybody else does.
- I’m creative in the way I ask people to give me instructions: Put it in writing, send me an email, tell me slowly, draw me a picture or a storyboard.
I realise that in a pressurized work situation, a stressed out boss is not going to have the time or patience to draw you a picture! But I have found that if I even understand 15% of the information, it’s enough to get me started whilst I’m figuring out the rest.
Communication difficulties are obviously core symptoms of autism, and I will be producing more articles and videos on this important subject in the near future.
Thanks for reading and please leave your comments below