I'm still processing it!
I am writing todays blog from isolation. One of my family members has tested positive so I am now isolating for 10 days.
One of the differences between Neurotypical and Neurodivergent people is how we process information. Autistic people will not process a situation the same as how a non-autistic person would. It may be different, logical, complex or deep thinking.
Social communication has a lot of hidden rules, or social norms. Especially when in conversations. It’s filled with jokes, humour, sarcasm and ‘correct’ ways of interaction all of which I find difficult and have to make myself remember to do them. Social chitchat is a big one. I am blunt and abrupt, I will not ask you how you are, or even say hello because I want to get straight the point, none of these exchanging pleasantries, but I do it anyway because I have been taught to do so even if my brain doesn’t want to. Some will argue that doing this is masking, but I’ll get on to that one at a later date.
Processing information is a big thing for me. Its such a simple accommodation but it helps me so much. And I know it would help others if people just made room for that processing time. There is a lot of stuff where I need that time to process what has been said or happened, so I know how to respond, react or feel. Sometimes in conversation I will repeat what is said to me in my head so I can focus and properly understand what has been said to me. Other times I won’t reply straightaway because I am processing the question in my head, this is often where people will repeat what they have said because they assume I just haven’t heard them but actually I am still just processing it. The time it takes for me to process varies greatly on what is being asked of me. My social communication still needs time to process, but this is never that long, maybe a minute or two to just understand before I reply. But there are things which are more complex which require processing time far longer than a few minutes, and that it may be up to a week before I am even ready to deal with it or understand what is going on.
My emotions take a lot of time for me to process because being alexithymic means I have difficulty trying to identify what my feelings are and how they make me feel so I won’t give an automatic reaction until I have worked out and process how I feel and what it is. I know I have feelings; I am a very emotional person but that is something completely different to identifying what those feelings are and this is what I process. Trying to process how I felt about my mum being pregnant with my little sister was hard for me and took a long time until I was okay with the situation. And more recently trying to process how I felt after going on a date was so hard and overwhelming because I just did not know, and I had family and friends asking me how it went and how I felt was too much I was still processing it and did not know in that moment how I felt. ‘Are you okay’ and ‘how are you feeling’ are one of the most overwhelming questions for me because I don’t know in that instant and I need to process and identify what I feel before I can answer and the alexithymia makes that ten times harder.
So, what happens if I’m not given time to process…… Well, every question would be answered with ‘I don’t know’ which annoys people because they assume that I should know instantly but that is just not how it works with me. I would also get very overwhelmed with people asking me question after question as I wouldn’t be able to focus on just one thing and I very easily get information overload and start to panic because its too much. If I’m in conversation with someone and they don’t give me time to process I end up shutting down and just backing off either wont reply or I give them an answer they expect to hear and not my actual response because there’s no point trying to keep up if I can’t process properly. I would also say things that weren’t socially appropriate for the conversation because I hadn’t processed the actual meaning and I wouldn’t pick up jokes or sarcasm so would be very literal with these responses.
This information overload is easily managed if I am told things in short sentences and are more logical to think about. I think logically anyway so won’t need to process logical information as its already in the way I can understand. This helps me not feel so overwhelmed or pressured.
Understanding how autistic people process information is key because you are allowing them the time to interact and engage with the conversation in their own way. It helps to feel included and accepted. But I will end with this, all autistic people process information in their own ways. No way is the same. I am logical and this is how I process things.