Sorry, I Can’t See What You’re Saying…

a picture is worth a thousand words

I have begun to understand that unless I have time to “picture” what a person is saying, I often don’t “hear” them. It’s definitely gotten trickier since I have some hearing damage from amplifiers, but I now realize it’s always been this way. It might be one reason it was hard to maintain or even gain friends in school. Sometimes I might not have grasped what they were saying and probably didn’t respond in the right way, or at all. I can see how that would appear rude, weird, or offensive. I suppose it can make a person appear stupid too, in spite of the complex thought processes that might be simultaneously going through that person’s mind.

Speech doesn’t need to be slow, necessarily, but when I listen to something verbal, I have to be able to picture what’s being said. Visuals and modeling in class settings can be very helpful, even for adults. I was talking to a friend today who was talking so fast, I couldn’t keep up a lot of the time. I heard names that I knew and could picture the people, but not what was being related about them. It was very frustrating. It has only recently occurred to me that this is an aspect of my autism and that not everyone has to picture things to process language. I don’t always have trouble, but often in new or stressful situations with new information, I have to work much harder to comprehend what is being said.

In a work setting, I get a little frustrated when times, places, figures, numbers, statistics, etc. are being thrown around with no visual references. They mean little to nothing to me unless I can process them visually. Same with directions on how to get somewhere. I’m a great map reader, but don’t just rattle off directions and expect me to retain them. I won’t unless I have a visual reference for the directions or places you name. At least write them down for me, then I’m fine. Meetings are horrible, especially when there are always those few people who insist on talking in the background. It often muddies or supercedes what I’m supposed to be listening to.

It’s especially hard on the phone when, without visual interaction, I also have issues of not knowing when I can talk. Poor reception can make things even more difficult. Sometimes I can’t get a word in as it doesn’t seem to be my turn. If I try to say something, I feel like I’m interrupting. If the person I’m talking to takes over the conversation before I’m finished, I can’t hear what they’re saying because I’m still thinking about what I was going to say. I fake it a lot too. If I completely get lost, I have to ask people to slow down or start over, but a lot of the time I just pretend to hear what they’re saying and try to make occasional responses, hoping they’re appropriate. I listen for words that stand out, and if I think I’ve missed something important, I ask them to repeat it. I try not to do that too often or they won’t want to talk to me anymore!

I enjoy watching videos more than TV as I can stop and replay sections I couldn’t catch the words of, especially as I tend to love shows with witty, playful dialogue (Gilmore Girls, Buffy, Firefly, Sherlock), but they tend to talk so fast!

It’s the same when I read. Although I love words and books, I read slowly. I have to be able to picture what I’m reading. I guess that’s why I appreciate description so much. I tend to write a lot of description, too, and that’s mostly what I’ve been editing out of my currently published novel. No one’s complained about it, but it’s very long.

I also can’t listen to more than one thing at a time. Apart from just finding it annoying, it’s completely confusing. If more than one person is talking at a time I hear nothing but vocal noise. If there are a lot of people talking, it soon becomes overwhelming. I avoid those situations. In class, my students learn they can’t talk to me at the same time. They become very considerate about it when I explain. We have our noisy times – especially at the beginning and end of class – when I just deal with it, and my autistic students learn to cope with it too. But the rest of the time I’m listening very intently. Once we start really working, it can’t be chaotically noisy. It’s something of a mixed blessing.

Please never make the mistake of thinking that someone who processes slowly is of lower intelligence. In many situations they might run circles around you – mentally speaking, at least. Other distractions and eye contact are issues for another day.

How do you process language? Do you have trouble with auditory/language processing? What is your experience?

B B Shepherd is a musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog

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Girls Just Want To Have Fun

I’ve been editing like crazy and preparing to start teaching again on Monday, so haven’t had much time for blog posts. But a friend posted this and it blew me away. I love the original by Cindi Lauper, but Chase Holfelder, Major to Minor, has added a new dimension. Apart from his obvious musical skills, it’s amazing how a slight interval change can transform the entire song. What do you think?



B B Shepherd is an musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog

Autism and Depression

I Am Paggliacci

Yes, I know everyone is probably overusing Robin for various reasons, but I saw this and couldn’t help thinking about myself and my children, and applying it to the things I am learning. I’ve seen it or something similar before, but that was before I understood myself as I do now. Before I understood myself as autistic.

I have (since a small child) always dealt much more with anxiety than depression, but depression was a significant part of my teenage experience (which I hid from in intense interests and explained away as other things), haunted me through my twenties and thirties (and it was much harder to ignore), and almost debilitated me after the death of my mother, my one solid anchor and advocate in life. For six months I got up and went through motions, was even able to teach reasonably well (I think – I have no memory of that whole period except for darkness and drowning) and wondered if I’d ever feel “normal” (or what passed for normal to me) again.

My saving grace in life since my mid twenties, apart from my faith (the importance of which I in no way want to minimalize) has been my children. Through my rocky marriage, subsequent abandonment and divorce, severe financial need, and trying to rebuild our lives, I kept going because I had to. I know a lot of people in the same circumstances have not been as successful.

I’m not going to try to guess the causes of Robin’s depression. Nobody will ever know for sure. But I do want to say a word about understanding and acceptance. About autism and other differences. Now that I understand myself as an autistic woman, I find it easier to accept myself. No, I don’t use it as an excuse for negative behaviors, but I can allow myself to be myself. It’s very liberating. It has not banished the anxiety, but I understand it now. Knowledge is empowering.

One of the greatest stressors for autistics is the pressure to conform, to try to appear and act and even think “normal,” which is to say, neurotypically. It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting. It can be extremely depressing.

I attended a meeting yesterday to talk about the new school year. It was only a few hours long and it was great to see and connect with my colleagues again, but after a summer of relatively free expression and low interaction with others, I had myself on a very tight rein. I stopped myself from commenting so many times and still seemed to say something wrong at times, or maybe just at the wrong time (I still struggle HUGELY with this). By the time I got home my brain was shutting down and I couldn’t think straight. I slept for most of the afternoon in a dark room. At one time, that would have caused depression as well.

A prevalent comorbid condition for women on the autism spectrum appears to be depression. This depression can be caused or at least exacerbated by the constant struggle and exertion it takes for acceptance, to fit in, to seem “normal;” dealing with constant fear of bullying, sarcasm, teasing, ridicule; and the constant questioning and analyzing of ourselves (often in a negative context), wondering why we don’t understand others and situations we find ourselves in.

In fact, it is becoming clear that many women might be misdiagnosed with a host of conditions including depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, ADD, and others, that may indicate that they are actually on the autism spectrum. Remember that 1:4 ratio? Many women (and some men) do not present as clinical (predominantly male) Aspergers/autism, but a closer examination of their traits and history and a wider understanding of the way females (and some males) present these traits make the diagnosis more likely. Regardless of “why” people are autistic (and I DON’T see it as a negative thing), just knowing and accepting that you are can be extremely liberating, comforting, and validating.

I haven’t thought about depression in an immediately personal way since I began to understand what has made me different all my life. And since I’ve begun to understand and really accept myself in this context, I have not experienced any significant depression or deeply negative thoughts. Maybe I’m just resilient that way. But for those of us on the spectrum, or for those who are becoming aware that they might be on the spectrum, accepting ourselves, allowing ourselves to be ourselves even if we are still chameleons in public, can be liberating. Maybe even life-saving.

I’m sure there are many causes of depression and all kinds of people can experience it and suffer from it to different degrees. It is a human condition not exclusive to one type of person or another. But, as with any other condition/disorder/disability/difference, we shouldn’t patronize or punish the person experiencing it.

I hope that, if you are diagnosed with autism or suspect you should be, you will find out all you can about it, embrace it, find your strengths and glory in them whether others understand or not. And know that you are not alone. You’re not broken. You’re not “wrong.” You’re just different, and that’s okay. You are an incredible human being and, no matter how others see you, you are amazing.

To the person on the outside looking in: Regardless of underlying causes, to the person dealing with chronic depression, don’t just say, “It’ll get better,” “Chin up!” “Tomorrow’s another day.” That’s like throwing a life preserver that doesn’t fit to a drowning person who still has no way of getting out of the water. The sentiment is nice but is less than useless. You have no idea the depth of their pain and struggle. You certainly don’t know the reasons for it. Accept and support them anyway you can, but don’t trivialize their experience.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have successfully managed depression.

B B Shepherd is a musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog

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Finding Time

Let go and see what happens

This seems appropriate as I am about to take a step into the unknown. Who knows what will come of it, if anything? All I know is, I have nothing to lose.

I’ve recently returned from a week’s vacation in the Pacific Northwest and now it’s time to get back to work, at least to writing. The work that actually pays my bills will start in a couple of weeks too. So I was thinking about how we spend our time–the things we like to do when we don’t have to do something else.

My profession is music but I find I spend less and less leisure time on my own music and music making. Time to just play for fun, to practice too, and work on original pieces. And I love art, especially simple drawing, but inspiration for it is a whimsical creature that comes (usually at the most inappropriate moments) and goes (leaving regret in its wake). I am carving out time to take my oldest daughter on an art date this week. I’m taking her somewhere specific where we can sketch things that I think she’ll be interested in (I haven’t told her where) but even that has been postponed several times already.

I had every intention of drawing every day this summer, but it seems the more determined I am to stick to a plan, the harder it is to actually do anything. Is that just me? I wish I understood how it works! So for now I’m still concentrating on writing, getting the present project finished and trying something new and scary with it before returning to the newer project (also almost finished). And hopefully I’ll find time to just breathe and enjoy the creative spirit however and whenever it strikes me.

What are the things you enjoy doing when you have time? Do you find it easy to allocate the time to them or do you feel like you should be doing something else? If you have a method that works, how do you do it?

B B Shepherd is a musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog

Pursuing Einstein: Holy Curiosity

Many people have speculated that Einstein was autistic. This seems possible given his known traits. I have a fair sized biography that I plan to start when my present project is fully edited, and eventually want to read his own works. I’ll share whatever I find of interest. If you have anything to add or have some insight to share, please do! Meanwhile, I like this:

Einstein - Holy Curiosity

B B Shepherd is an musician, educator, and author and can also be found at Glistering: B’s Blog