I’m Just Going to Nod and Pretend I Heard You


Some people on the spectrum have central auditory processing disorder, or as I like to call it, that moment when your teacher spends ten minutes giving detailed instructions on how to build a snowman out of cotton balls and says, “let’s get to work!” and it suddenly dawns on you that you have no clue about anything she just said.  I can’t say for sure that I have it, but some of the symptoms are uncannily like my life.

It’s kind of like being underwater.  Words take seconds longer to register and are sometimes distorted to the point where they make no sense.   Someone says something I can’t quite make out and then it’s time to figure out how many times in a row I can get away with saying “what?” (usually not many).   And sometimes in the time it takes me to say “huh?” and it suddenly clicks and now I’m waiting for the other person to say it all again and trying not to jump in with the response.

And then there’s those fast-paced conversations where everyone is making all these witty remarks and pop-culture references and my eyes are going back and forth like I’m watching a tennis match.   This is especially tricky when there’s music in the background (and heaven help me if it’s something with auto-tune, because then I’m too busy trying not to claw my ears out).  Every so often I come up with something good-five seconds after the topic has passed, but I bet it would have been mildly amusing.

And of course there’s those dreaded multi-step directions.  As if gym class wasn’t terrifying enough without ten-minute spiels that you don’t remember a word of about tortuously complicated games involving Nerf balls, scooters, and traffic cones (which were actually pretty fun once I figured out what the heck was going on, but I digress).

I still have trouble with all of these things at times,  I’ve working on a few coping strategies-because, let’s face it, conversations are tricky enough without not having any idea what the other person just said.

Using a generic response while I process what was said.  Sometimes I might say something like, “right, well” or “yes, absolutely,” or even just “um yeah” while I process what was said and think of a response.  Some people have had success with repeating the other person’s words.

Listening for key words.   I find this strategy helpful in fast-paced conversations where I only need a general idea of what the other person is saying, or when only one or two words are needed to make the meaning clear.

Asking for clarification when given instructions. The nice thing about this one is that it’s usually taken as a sign that you are interested and engaged, as long as it’s not overused.

Seizing an opportunity.  When engaging in lighthearted banter (nothing Aspergery about saying it like that), I find it hard to keep up with the pace, so when I do find an opening, I run with it.  I’m that quiet person who occasionally says something funny, and it seems to work ok for me.

Asking for help.  This is something I haven’t used, but wish I had.  There is much more help out there than there used to be for people with auditory processing issues, especially in school and university   Don’t be like me and quit things you enjoy because you couldn’t follow the verbal instructions.

Of course, sometimes I just like to nod and pretend I can hear the other person.  This is my favoured strategy when someone gives me unsolicited parenting advice.

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13 Responses to I’m Just Going to Nod and Pretend I Heard You

  1. bjforshaw says:

    I can relate to this so well. I find it next to impossible to distinguish voices when there is background noise, so I have acquired the habit of generic responses because I get fed up keep asking them to repeat themselves and usually it is inconsequential small talk. I also watch the person’s lips while they speak because although I can’t lip read well I can pick up some clues that help me interpret what little I can make out.

    “I’m that quiet person who occasionally says something funny” — that is so me! 😀

  2. autisticook says:

    AUTO-TUNE! I thought I was the only one!

    Anyway. Yes to ALL of this. In my work, I use a lot of repeating things back at customers, because it’s a way for me to make sure I understood them correctly, and it makes them feel like I’m actually listening to them and taking their problems seriously (I work in IT Support where customers are used to not getting taken seriously). So that works. But the limited amount of “what?” that I can get away with… Argh! With work instructions, when it’s more than just one thing they want me to do, I always say something like, “OK, I will get right on it, but can you also send these points to me in email? Just as a summary of what we talked about. Thanks!” Where multi-step directions really throw me off is in yoga! I’m still busy figuring out where my feet should go while the rest of the class is already finishing the pose. So I usually just let it go and try not to feel like an utter dork. If I have enough processing time, I can do the poses well, so I know it’s not my physical ability. That helps.

    • Aspermama says:

      I would *love* to talk to an IT support person who actually took the time to repeat things back to me!

      Oh man, I’ve always been so intimidated by physical activities involving multi-step directions (especially since the epic disaster that was gym class square dancing). I always felt a little embarrassed for needing extra help when I used to do Tae-Kwon-Do. I think I could do something like that with more confidence now.

  3. Thank you so very much for this list. This is very helpful! This aspect of Aspergers has been very embarrassing and distressing for me. I am so glad to remember that I am not alone and that there are ways to listen carefully still.

    • Aspermama says:

      So glad you found it helpful! 🙂 It is so hard sometimes, I know how you feel. There have been so many times that I haven’t known how to respond because I just couldn’t understand what the other person was saying. It does help to know that there are lots of us who experience this, and I think it’s an issue that’s getting more attention.

  4. suburp says:

    I see my son struggling with this every day. I am trying to encourage him to speak up when things that are ‘too much, too fast’ is said to him, especially in school where they keep giving him instructions that contain several steps for almost everything they do (his main teacher knows better and tries doing it by portions). I think a problem is that he is so obviously intelligent and very articulate. He can talk about subjects of his interest for ages – in a very comprehensive way, ending even complex phrases and so on. But I know that if I ask him “go put off your shoes, put them in the shelf, wash your hands and come to have dinner” – he’ll be completely at loss what to do.

    • Aspermama says:

      Uneven skills are such a huge part of autism, I think it really throws people off. Sometimes it even surprises me when I see it in myself. So good though that at least one of his teachers understands-it makes things so much more manageable and less scary and overwhelming.

  5. Aspie Kent says:

    This is SO very true, about me also! I have to be very careful not to miss important things, particularly at home where it is much more difficult to explain away why I’m not doing what I apparently just agreed to do when I mumbled “uh huh” to some random noises coming from my wife or a child. At work, I’ve learned to repeat and ask clarifying questions, but probably not as often as I should. And then, when coupled with my tendency to take everything absolutely literally, the results can sometimes be disastrous, or sometimes humorous, but nearly always different than what others were expecting. Thanks for sharing about a part of Asperger’s that I wasn’t so much aware of!

    • Aspermama says:

      Thanks for commenting!

      This is one of those things that tends to get overlooked-I always used to think that I just didn’t have very good hearing.

      I know what you mean about agreeing to things without having any idea what the other person just said-I’ve gotten into a bit of trouble for that too!

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