Tag Archives: processing

Processing

I am going to talk about processing speed YET AGAIN because things have happened in my life YET AGAIN to bring it up, though I suspect they will always happen for the rest of my life.

Before I get into that, though, I want to side track a little bit. I have gathered that one thing people like to read about is autistic perspective. Not only on specific issues and the life (though yes, that is important) but just how we see the world and what just existing is like for us. Which is kind of cool and I like sharing perspective, but is also challenging. I have lived in my own head for my whole life. I have spent exactly 0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes, and 0 seconds living in anyone else’s head. So yes, I know all about my own perspective, but what I know much less about is how that is different from neurotypical perspective. There are some things I can figure out are different for me just by looking at behaviors and the like, but there are lots more that I only seem to know about when other people point them out. Sometimes they are expecting something from me that I consider absurd and in discussing it we both learn that it is easy for neurotypicals but difficult for me, or we’ll be having a conversation and I’ll just casually mention something in my head and they’ll respond “wow, that’s totally weird!” or whatever else.

When that happens, I write about it. This helps me to work through it since I do a lot of my processing via writing, and apparently it is useful for other people to read about in order to understand more about autistic perspective. Yay understanding!

So anyway, this is a thing that I have found happens fairly regularly. Sometimes with the same person, over and over and over again. I’ll explain what things are like for me and why I do things the way I do them and they’ll be all “oh, ok, I see” and then a few weeks or months later, it will come up AGAIN. And AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN. Yes, it has gotten a little tiresome for me.

It usually goes like this: someone says something that hits a button or a trigger or something, and I feel hurt. Then I process that for what is, apparently, a Very Long Time (it is not unusual for this process to take weeks). Eventually I bring it up and ask to talk about it, sometimes needing to refresh their memory on the matter since to them it is often ancient history already.

There are usually two phases of response to this, one which varies wildly and the other which is pretty consistent. The first is just their response to me saying I am hurt or upset about the thing. Ideally they will be willing to sit down and talk with me and listen to my perspective about why and how it was icky to me and we work it out (happily, that is what happened the most recent time. sometimes people get very resistant to working it out or hearing me out which is a problem in and of itself).

The next part is always, ALWAYS, about the fact that I “waited” so long to talk about it. Sometimes people get upset with me or accuse me or “bottling things up” or being stubborn or something, and other times people just request that I bring things up right away when something hurts or bothers me.

And then it’s all kinds of uncomfortable, because honestly, I cannot do that. I rather wish I could, it sounds like people would respond much better if I did. But that just really, seriously, is not how I work and I cannot make myself work that way.

Instead I have to process. First, I have to notice that I am upset. This is usually pretty quick, but when I was younger it could take a while. Then I have to connect that emotion to it’s cause – the thing someone said or did. Usually it starts off fairly broad (“something about that makes me feel icky”) and then I have to work through exactly what it is that tweaked me (“oh, this word hit this trigger so when they said these words I actually heard that message which may or may not actually be what they meant”). Then there is a period of working through what I feel and whether or not I can work through the upsetness on my own. If I can, I don’t bother to bring it up because it just doesn’t seem worth it. If I can’t, then yes, I’ll bring it up as a thing to talk about. This is not a quick process. If there is something going on in my life that is demanding my processing power, then it can take even longer.

To make it more specific – the most recent example of this was with my psychiatrist. We were talking about ativan and how I was sometimes tempted to take it while I was dealing with my cat Genzi’s cancer because of how overwhelming and stressful and awful it all was. In that conversation (which happened over email), at one point she mentioned that dealing with stuff like that builds resilience. This happened to hit a trigger of mine and tweaked me kinda hard. Weeks later, when we were meeting in person, I finally brought it up, saying:

In an email convo about ativan we had several weeks ago, you said “the act of coping through tough periods builds resilience.” Only I heard “you are weak and need to be stronger so that you can stop being weak!” I really hope that’s not what you meant and I know this is a trigger point for me, but I’m hoping you can give me more words to clarify and reassure me that’s not what you meant. Unless it is what you meant. In which case, maybe nevermind.

Then we talked about it. Yay! Turns out that weak thing was totally not what she meant, and I talked a little bit about how I have a very sensitive trigger there and how it hit that trigger. THEN she brought up the thing about how she wants me to just bring things up right away instead of “waiting.” *sigh*

I know I’m saying this over and over and over again. Autistic people in general are often saying this over and over and over again. But seriously – we need time to process. I often go more slowly than other people in conversations. I take more time to think through things, and I need more time to find my words. Sometimes a LOT more time. Sometimes weeks. It’s not because I’m “waiting” or “hiding things” or whatever else. It’s because it takes me a while.

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What I meant/What I said

Connecting Cities 2013 - Networked City

I want to talk about a particular form of miscommunication that plagues me a bit in my life. When I have problems with miscommunication with people, it’s usually from this thing. That being – when what a person says and what a person meant are two different things.

Autism is defined by being a social disorder – that is what differentiates it from other developmental delays. As such, I do a lot of thinking about social things, including how I communicate. It is normal for me to spend a great deal of time thinking about what I want to say, why I want to say it, what my motivations and intentions are, what I am hoping to gain, and any number of other things that all culminate into the words I choose. This means that sometimes, especially for things that are personal or important, it can take me a long time to find my words. Weeks or months sometimes (and for the autism spectrum, that’s pretty fast. some people can take years). I also know that I can slip and mess up my words if I am in a situation where I am being pressured to find words before I can fully do my processing.

I have learned that other people do not go through this process. They just always have words. I have also learned, sometimes very harshly, that this means that people may not always be fully aware of what’s behind their words, or even believe that there is nothing else behind the words (this is almost never actually true). Additionally, allistic people are not immune to making errors in their communication or word choices.

What can be of profound frustration for me is what happens when those errors happen.

See, I try very hard to acknowledge my mistakes and do better. Other people… well, even if they have very good intentions, they are rarely happy to say “oh whoops, my mistake. let’s try again.” And that bothers me. A lot.

Ok, let me give an absurd example that probably never happens in real life that will hopefully help illustrate what I’m talking about.

Person1: I like baked potatoes!
Person2: What? I thought you hated baked potatoes.
P1: I do. What are you talking about? I like french fries.
P2. But you just said that you like baked potatoes.

It’s what happens next that can vex me. Now, it isn’t always bad. Nee and I seem to have a script that works very well when either one of us find ourselves accidentally using words that say something we don’t mean. So we would end the conversation something like this:

P1. Oh, did I? Whoops, sorry about that. I meant to talk about french fries.
P2. Oh, ok. I understand now.

This involves P1 admitting their mistake and acknowledging that what they said was not what they meant. It also involve P2 acknowledging that they meant something other than what they said. WIthout both parts, it does not really work. With this method of both parties participating and clearing up a word-usage error, meaning can come across more easily.

I think this has spoiled me, because I keep running into people who don’t work that way. Instead, the rest of the conversation goes something like this:

P1: I DID NOT JUST TALK ABOUT BAKED POTATOES! YOU ARE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT I’M SAYING!
P2: Bwah?

It all tends to go downhill from there. And yes, some people really have gotten incredibly vitriolic on me about this sort of thing. From my perspective, now they are lying. I am willing to believe that they meant something other than what their words actually said, but if they insist that their words were correct and I’m just being awful then I cannot move forward. I mean, I guess it’s true that I made an assumption about their words – I assumed they meant what they said. As assumptions go, it’s one I am very comfortable with.

After my post on feeling broken people exhorted me to see strengths in my autism. And I do try to – I am very good with details, I can be extremely determined, I see the world in ways other people do not – but it can be challenging when most of the world seems to want to focus on, and constantly remind me of, my deficiencies. This is an area where it kind of seems to be both a strength and a weakness. I put much more effort than most people do on finding and looking at words. I do this because it is a necessity for me, but it also puts me in a position where it is habitual for me to inspect word choices, which can be helpful. Sadly, it means that when there is a disconnect between what is said and what is meant, I seem to stall. And the rest of the world does not seem interested in finding a way to clear it up. I am expected to simply ignore the words used in favor of what was “meant” (except, of course, when I am not to do that and I get yelled at and called rude for trying to fully understand what is behind a person’s words. I just cannot win).

I wish it was normal for people to inspect their words. I wish people didn’t take it as some kind of attack if I point out what was actually said. I wish people could just say “whoops, I made a word error. I actually meant this thing.” When I make a word error and acknowledge it and try to find better words, I wish people were more willing to accept that I meant something other than what I said. Sadly, none of that seems to happen with people other than Nee, and it can be frustrating for me.

Hey world! You need to be better!

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Radio Sensory

So there’s this guy, by the name of Matthew Morgan. I don’t personally know him, though he did graciously answer a few questions I sent him regarding a project of his.

That project being, Radio Sensory. To put it briefly, it’s a radio station that you can play in your media player on your computer (and possibly smart device, though I cannot personally vouch for that), that plays various sounds meant to be soothing. It is specifically for those of us on the autism spectrum who may at times desire or need repetitive, soft auditory input. He himself is on the autism spectrum (mild autism disorder, specifically), and uses his radio station around once a week or so.

Honestly, I think it’s a pretty neat project. He says he originally got the idea from reading posts in places like wrongplanet and yahoo answers, and seeing people talk about autistic children having a difficult time getting to sleep. In response, he made an internet radio station! That’s so cool! Heck, all I would do is blog about sleep.

Apparently there is a website where he can find sounds that are in the public domain, and tries to add around an hour of new content every two weeks or so. As far as I know it’s still a fairly young project and while he does actively work on it, it is not a high priority for him as not many people use it.

The main downsides are:

1. You need to download something (I don’t really understand what) and then play it through your media player. Browser-based listening should happen eventually, but is not currently possible.

2. You have no control over what sort of sounds you get, as it is a radio station. I find myself hoping that at some point in the future, if it gets more popular, there will be a variety of channels with different types of sounds so people can choose what they find most soothing. As it is, you turn it on and you get what you get.

Personally, I have found that if I am feeling wound up, turning Radio Sensory on for a little while can help a lot in finding my equilibrium. And that’s pretty nifty right there.

(and after having just shoveled around a foot of snow, some nice, soothing noises sounds really good right about now)

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Processing

THIS IS TERRIFYING.

Story! I remember when I was young, I was very scared of escalators. In fact, I would refuse to step onto one unless one of my parents was holding my hand, and this persisted past the time my mom thought I should be over such needs.

Escalators seem to be one of those things that most people consider an easy alternative to going up or down stairs and I don’t think many people really think about them beyond that. I do, however, occasionally see people talking about escalators as difficult in terms of sensory processing, and that got me thinking.

In processing terms, there is kind of a lot going on with escalators. Just stepping on to one is this fraught process involving needing to know exactly where your feet are while tracking the motion of these constantly moving stairs and getting your feet in the right position at exactly the right time to get on, and then moving forward hopefully smoothly to transfer your weight onto your now-moving foot so that you can get your other foot on. Gods help you if you need to manage luggage or something at the same time.

And neurotypicals find this easy? Wow.

Needless to say, I prefer the stairs. Not because of fitness (though I suppose that helps) but because stairs are easier. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t always know where exactly her feet are, so stairs are actually kind of tricky too. Just less tricky than trying to get onto or off of an escalator.

All of which is to say, I don’t really process some things all that quickly. It isn’t universal. I can’t just say “I process slowly” and have that be it. I’ve been told that in some contexts (like maybe crafting) I can pull things together in my head at lightening speed. Which is cool. But sensory processing? Not so much. That can be downright slow. The same is true of social processing – seriously un-speedy. When you combine sensory processing and social processing – like, say, listening to someone talk – once in a while that is downright snail-like. Not always. I can turn it up when I know I’ll need to be using it, but if it’s unexpected then… well, yeah. Slow city.

I don’t think this post has much of a point. Honestly, I just wanted to tell the escalator story and talk about how scary and complicated they can be when you actually need to deliberately think through everything involved in using one of those contraptions. Real time sensory processing where TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

No thanks, I’ll just use the stairs.

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How to talk to me

At first I thought about making a “how to talk to introverts” post. Or maybe a “how to talk to anxious people” post, or a “how to talk to aspies” post. However, I really don’t think I’m qualified to speak on behalf of entire groups like that. I may be part of all of those groups but I’m not their spokesperson, and even within those groups, different things will work for different people. So instead, here’s a “how to talk to me” post.

Many, if not all, of the points I make will apply to lots of other people besides me, so this isn’t entirely self serving. They may apply to introverts, or to the socially anxious, or to autistic people, or any combination of the above. Ultimately, your best bet is to get to know people as individuals and figure out what works for them.

So, onwards to what works for me.

One of the biggest is to give me time to process and answer. If I am putting lots of energy into socializing, I can usually process quickly enough that people don’t notice much of a lag. However, if I am focused on something else or not pushing myself to process at top speed, it will take me some time to process what you said, come up with a response, and put that response into words that make sense. Importantly, I really need you to stop talking while I’m working on that. I cannot listen to someone and process my response at the same time, so every time you start talking again I need to begin the process all over again.

Really, any time you are wanting a response from me, it is important to stop talking in order to get it. I’ve noticed that sometimes people seem to just keep talking and talking and talking and just won’t stop, and I’m politely waiting for them to stop talking so that I can respond and it never seems to happen. Eventually I will tune them out (which feels very rude and I don’t like doing it) so that I can come up with a response, and then interrupt to say something. What’s always so odd is they respond as though that is what they were waiting for me to do.

I don’t like socializing this way. Let’s take turns, and please give me the time and space I need. If you want me to be at all relaxed around you, this is even more important. The more relaxed I am, the slower I am to process and respond (Nee would probably attest to that one). So I like it when people are ok with that.

Moving on – this goes against the usual tips I see about socializing, but please don’t touch me without permission. Not even a handshake. I will be far more comfortable with you if you keep your hands to yourself and refrain from thrusting body parts in my direction with the expectation of grabbing one of my body parts. Eventually I might feel comfortable enough with you to engage in social touch, but please let it be on my terms. Beginning an interaction with a handshake guarantees that I will feel tense and icky for it.

Don’t try to force eye contact. I might look at your face when we talk, but I will never even glance at your eyes. Even looking at faces is draining and I might more look in your vague, general direction. However, that is draining too, so I might just look away from you. It depends on how much energy I have, and how I feel it’s best to use that energy. I don’t need to look at your in order to listen to you. On the contrary, oftentimes I listen much better when I’m looking away, and don’t need to process lots of visual information at the same time that I’m processing all that auditory information. Respect that.

Mostly what I need is for you to respect my differences. Don’t try to force me to interact like everyone else thinking that it qualifies as “improvement” because it does not. Improvement is being able to interact with people without being unduly stressed or exhausted. Allowing me to be the way I am is the best way to accomplish that goal.

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