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.