Auditory Processing and Aspergers

From what I have noticed, a lot of people with Aspergers and other conditions on the autistic spectrum, including myself, have difficulties with auditory processing. I find this aspect of our neurological wiring one of the hardest to explain to people who aren’t on the autistic spectrum. This is because a lot of people think that they know the extent to which we struggle with filtering sounds. After all, most people struggle to concentrate on a task when someone is talking to them and the radio is playing in the background all at the same time. However, personally, I think the difference lies in the effect it has on us. I will elaborate.

For someone who isn’t on the spectrum, dealing with background noise while trying to perform a task may be an annoyance and may make them feel frustrated. For those of us on the spectrum, the background noise can make it impossible for us to concentrate and be literally painful for our ears. I can’t deal with hearing more than one conversation at the same time-people notice that I can’t follow what they are saying because the other conversation is coming through to me just as clearly and the two conversations get jumbled up in my brain so I can’t distinguish them apart from each other. Apparently most people who aren’t on the spectrum and don’t have other neurological conditions that can cause the same issues automatically filter out other conversations so that their brain is focused on the one that they are having. I wish my brain had the ability to do that! When I was younger, different conversations going on at the same time would distress me to such an extent that I would shout over everybody else so that the conversation I was having was the only one, not because I was selfish and loved the sound of my own voice, as I’m sure many people thought, but because the confusion of different words and sentences getting mixed together in my brain literally made my head hurt! These days, I know that doing such a thing is considered by most people as socially unacceptable so I haven’t done this for several years now but I still find multi conversation environments highly stressful. It’s one of those things that autistic people tolerate because we realise that that’s how the world works but, believe me, it causes us a lot of stress and pain.

It’s not just different conversations and background noise occurring at the same time that makes it so difficult for us to focus on the information we need to process-a lot of other factors come into it as well. As mentioned on this blog before, a lot of people with Aspergers struggle to maintain eye contact with someone they are speaking with. We have to make so much effort to maintain eye contact during a conversation that there is no room left over for our brains to process what they are saying to us as well. That’s why it makes me angry when some misinformed teachers insist that a child cannot be listening or cannot have taken important information in if they have not given eye contact when the information is being given to them. For a child on the autistic spectrum, not giving eye contact to someone who is explaining a task to them is usually a good indicator that they have actually taken everything in and consciously chosen to process what they are hearing rather than risk missing out on vital information because society deems it a must to give eye contact and they can’t do both things at once. I cannot watch a TV programme if there is any background noise. I remember, a few years ago, getting so annoyed that background noise distracted me and prevented me from hearing the end of a fascinating documentary that I hurled the remote control across the room and unfortunately it hit my brother’s girlfriend! I cannot have a phone conversation while in front of a TV or computer screen or I miss the majority of what the other person is saying to me. Essentially I cannot multitask-I carry out single tasks with incredible precision but add a distraction in and I can’t cope at all! This is why an office environment would never work for me-every day is a sensory multitasking event for someone on the spectrum who has processing issues in that sort of environment. Of course there are times when sensory distractions occur in my workplace but they are a lot rarer than they would be in some other environments. When I am doing paperwork, I am just doing paperwork. When I am with a student, all my attention is on them. It’s a set up that really works for me.

I leave you all with one final reminder-please don’t assume that someone on the spectrum is just lazy or slow. Our brains process everything without a filter so it may take a while for us to get to the information that you have given us but we will get there. Daily life is not easy when you have issues with your auditory processing-please try and remember that. It will make the lives of people with autism so much better and only requires a little patience from others.


One Response to Auditory Processing and Aspergers

  1. Pingback: Creativity and Asperger’s |

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