Most of the time, you cannot tell if I am paying attention.
That’s not to say that I am always paying attention. There’s a very solid chance that I am not, but if I am, it might not be outwardly obvious.
I might be looking the wrong way (I’m certainly not making eye contact), I might appear to be focused on something else (especially if there’s some form of movement, like a tree swaying in the wind), I might even be playing a game on my iPad.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not listening; in fact, most of the above things help me listen.
You see, sometimes, English doesn’t sound like English. The syllables make their way into my ears, but by the time they get to my brain (or once they’re in my brain), they turn into a jumbled mess. I’m sure that some might have this as an additional diagnosis of Central Auditory Processing Disorder – but I personally don’t, and just consider it as part of my sensory processing relating to Autism.
But regardless, I can hear the words, and words should make sense to me, but they simply don’t. This isn’t constant, and I’m sure a lot of you can relate to me when I say it depends on a lot of factors.
Say, if I am trying to make eye contact, words go out the window. They make no sense. Ditto if there’s a lot of background noise, or if I’m busily trying to type out a response on my AAC.
But it’s easier for me to understand you when I’m doing something that takes a small amount of my concentration – say, for example, doing an easy Sudoku (most are easy now, I’m very good), or fidgeting, or stimming in some other form.
So often, it doesn’t look like I’m listening, but I am listening.
And this means I get left out of so many conversations.
I get spoken for in so many conversations.
I am made to feel like my voice doesn’t matter.
Just because I am listening in a way that is not acceptable to neurotypical listening.
Yet, I am listening. I’m listening, trying to figure out if I can join the conversation (do I have something clever to say? Something relevant? A fact, maybe?), and then people are surprised when I suddenly interject. They shouldn’t be. I’m sitting right here.
It seems as though, just because I’m not looking you in the eye, or even at your face, or at the object you happen to be discussing, that I am automatically dismissed. That I do not want to be in the conversation. But more often than not – I do. I do still want to be a part of it, I just need my communication needs met where they are.
Will you meet me?
- Autistic Listening: you cannot tell if I am paying attention - February 12, 2022
- A Letter to Autistic Teens - January 17, 2022