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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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2 thoughts on “Sorry, I Can’t See What You’re Saying…

  1. I really love the description in your books…just an FYI 🙂 I don’t like too much talking in books at all! I need to picture the place to feel like I can fit into the book. Kyle, my son, can’t handle a lot of noise going on around him if he needs to be thinking at the same time. I love your new blog and look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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