A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Speedy Gonzo

One thing that particularly drives me nuts on a lot of occasions is the speed with which people carry out conversations. It’s as if they’re in race cars and going absolutely speedy gonzo. Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration, but you get my point. Quite often, I just can’t seem to catch up with them. It’s like riding a mountain bike on a paved road with a bunch of people who all have road bikes with those flat tires instead with the knobs that mountain bikes have. It takes greater force for me to keep up at their speed. I try so hard at first and may be able to keep up at least a little while, but soon, they’ve all disappeared around the next bend and when I turn that bend, I’ve lost them completely. It isn’t fun and I can’t enjoy my bike ride.

When you’ve reached a fork in the road and some of them go one way and the rest go the other is the worst part though. All of a sudden it looks like you can choose which one as well. If you don’t like one way, you can come back and try another (I’m going to assume here that your bicycling friends who are going the other way will wait for you if you come back). It looks like there’s a greater chance that you can keep up this time since there are two groups instead of just one. And you don’t need to take a course on probability to figure out that the greater number of opportunities there are, the more of a chance you’ll succeed. After all if one opportunity fails you, at least you’ll have the other one to fall back on. Hence if can’t keep up with one group of bicyclists, you can always come back and try with the other group. But, hey, guess what? You can’t keep up with the second group either. Great, you’ve been given two attempts and you’ve failed at both of them. What a jolly time this is!

Okay, enough with analogy. Let me deliver the hard rock-bottom truth. I usually can’t keep up on conversations that I’m involved in or could be involved in. It takes at least a few seconds longer for me to process what another person has said and for me to generate a response. Unless I really want to put a lot of effort in to it (too much effort for what it’s worth), I’m just not going to keep up. There are, of course, exceptions. Unlike bicycling, it does require at least two people for a conversation to take place. Hence if I’m in presence of only one other person and we’re talking, that other person has no choice, but to wait for me. Now it isn’t a long wait and it’s usually accompanied by my saying stuff like, “Let me think about that for a moment” or “Ummmmm” or something to that affect. Besides, I usually respond faster when I’m in the presence of one person because I don’t feel so overwhelmed by the presence of several people.

More often than not, however, when I’m in the presence of a person, I’m usually in the presence of several people. And several people might mean several conversations happening at once. This is where when you’re with your bicycling friends at that fork in the road and several of them choose to go the other way and several the other. Whenever I’m in the presence of several people where several conversations are happening, I start trying to contribute to one conversation, but when that doesn’t go so well, I move onto another. And when that doesn’t work out right, I move onto another or move back to the first to have another go at that one. What ultimately happens, however, is that the social gathering draws to a close with me not feeling so good after several attempts of something that I can’t seem to get a grasp on.

Of course, there might only be one conversation going on. One particular example where this was a problem was in the philosophy society at university. The philosophy society was a group of students who loved discussing philosophical topics and we discussed a topic for an hour and a half each week. While there weren’t usually more than ten people at any given meeting and certainly philosophy is something I love and love to talk about, my slow response time in conversations applied all the same. And philosophy, being a subject filled with controversial issues, meant that people were arguing with each other. While this was in a polite fashion (we weren’t at each other’s throats), we were all doing our best to get our opinions and arguments for them out into the conversation. Given this, I wasn’t too successful myself a lot of the time. What particularly annoys me about this scenario is that I knew I was a great philosophy student and certainly had good ideas. Yet in the philosophy society, I either couldn’t find the words to say my ideas fast enough or I thought that if I had a few seconds I could at least come up with an idea. Sometimes I sit there and all I can process immediately are waves of emotion on what people think, but nothing on their actual thoughts themselves, except that they have to do with the chosen topic for the meeting.

Another time when I had trouble with conversations was up at the dining hall at university. I sat with some people from the residence I knew and one day we were discussing something. I forget what the topic was, but it’s not important. Anyway, I made a suggestion about the topic at hand, but the problem was when I had made it, the conversation had already changed a little bit. After I had made my comment, one of the others told me that we had already left that topic that I should keep up with the pace. It wasn’t in a mean way, just in a fun way.

I’ve actually found a post on another autism blog about a woman with aspergers who experience much of the same thing. The link for it is as folows: http://www.journeyswithautism.com/2009/06/18/when-will-i-ever-learn/

I like how she describes the experience as trying to get some cans from a very high shelf. You keep on jumping, trying to get them. Sometimes you touch them, which just encourages you to jump even more.

It can be a frustrating experience and it’s certainly good to know there are others who feel the same way as me. But like I said in a couple of posts back we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m in a paved world with a mountain bike trying to keep up with others who all have road bikes. Yet I can equally imagine an unpaved world built for my mountain bike, while damage is done to those smooth tires of all those road bikes on that world.

Comments on: "Speedy Gonzo" (5)

  1. I did not realize there was such a similarity between tbi (traumatic brain injury) or abi (acquired brain injury) and autism.
    I had a severe brain injury, a tbi as the result of a car crash, some years ago. And there is no “cure” for it either.

    I had never thought about a delay in processing time (during a conversation for example) being from any other cause than a brain injury. (Am ignoring neuro-degenerative diseases which result in delayed processing of input and output, as they are not regarded as brain injuries within the strict definition used in Canada.)
    The first provincial brain injury conference I attended, I thought I had gone to heaven. People waited until I responded to their statements/questions; and they were not rushing me to find appropriate words or jumping in to finish my sentences.

    And I stuttered when addressing more than one person – because I could not divide my attention between the two faces. The first time I did NOT stutter in such a situation was in a parking lot downtown. I was talking to one math professor when another professor joined us.

    Over-stimulation leads to a major crash (energy-wise). I’ve found that an hour of conversation with several people can take as much energy was being up, awake and alert for 24 hours.

    And thanks for the link to Rachel’s post about over-stimulation.
    A mad example, for me, used to be when I was a passenger in a car. I was exhausted when we arrived at our destination because I had been trying to count all the leaves on all of the trees we went by.

    Take care – and all the best in Waterloo.
    Jane Warren

    • Thanks for the comparison to brain injuries, Jane. I never considered that before. It must’ve been heaven at that conference if they all gave you the time you needed to respond. Say hi to the writing group for me!

  2. I just added this weblog to my google reader, excellent stuff. Can not get enough!

  3. […] I’ve elaborated on in one of my earliest posts Speedy Gonzo, one of the ways that autism hinders me is by having a slow reaction time in speech and in […]

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