Friday, August 16, 2013

Processing: Please Wait

If there were a theme to my life yesterday the theme most certainly was processing. It's weird how life can work that way and the first part of the story occurred at a restaurant on the way to Rolla.

Anytime I drive through Sullivan I have to eat at this one place. I've done it every single time dating all the way back to my first trip for TouchPoint back in 2010. Yesterday, though, was the first time I actually ordered a combo meal so I was a little off my normal pace as I thought about what to get as I didn't want the fries. Because of this change I wasn't all that responsive to the cashier's conversation as she talked and talked and talked (I think it was about food allergies) and I gave no indication I was listening to which she then said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I'm talking your ear off as you obvious aren't listening."

 Was I trying to be rude or disrespectful? Not at all! However, after the fact I could see how I came across the way. The problem was I had just got deciding what, of the ten or so items I could have instead of fries, I was going to have with my combo so my mind was coming off a deep processing session (okay, maybe for you ordering something isn't considered "deep" but when I've ordered the same thing for years on end a slight change instantly gets put into the "deep" category) and I just could not catch up with the conversation the cashier was having. The bad part about this is the fact that I don't really have a sign that says "Processing: Please Wait."

When one is doing an update, or anything it seems, on a computer there will, at some point in time, be something like the image to the right. For those of us on the autism spectrum there is nothing like that. The lady at the place yesterday had no idea the amount of processing I had just done for what would appear to be a simple task, but for myself it took a little bit more effort and she had no idea my brain was in the midst of going around in circles processing what had and was about to happen.

The later yesterday, at my presentation in Rolla, I heard from three parents who each had an issue with a teacher whom did not give proper processing time. One teacher went so far to yell at the student and it was all over the misunderstanding of processing. As I say in my presentation, "We truly live in a society where everything is now now NOW" and that is a major disadvantage for us on the autism spectrum when there is no understanding. If we aren't given the time to process, and if we're then scolded for "staring off" or "not paying attention" then our anxiety levels rise which increases the amount of processing taking place and this within itself creates more processing and then I'm processing so much that I can't even make sense of what I should be listening or paying attention too.

Because of the way society is now, in terms of being a now society, it would be hard to imagine that a person does need some extra time to process. The more at ease, at least for myself, that I am the easier it is to process. If I'm scared, and overly aware of my processing time and I know the other person has no patience for the time it's taking then I can almost guarantee that the interaction is going to suffer. It's a vicious cycle and one that shouldn't happen. However, it does because we don't have a visible marker. We don't have a spinning icon informing the world of the processing taking place. And on top of that we don't have the understanding from a lot of people that need it that processing is taking it place. It may not look like it, it may not seem like it, and it may seem we aren't interested but only if the world in general could know just how much processing is taking place and how difficult it is to come up with an answer when I'm analyzing fifteen different things as well as hearing everything else in the environment.


  1. This is another reason why I don't like those places like Moe's or Fast Eddies where, if you don't know what you want, you hold up the line and get, at the very least, nasty looks. I'm kind of surprised that the cashier said that comment to you as it doesn't come across as very customer friendly. I wonder if their job description says anything about socializing with the customers? Probably not officially, but I'm sure they're encouraged to be polite, at the very least.

    Everyone looks at the world through their own personal prism. Yours just happens to be colored by an Autism filter. Not everyone knows what that filter looks like or what life through that filter looks like. I've always thought that life for everyone, especially myself, would be a lot easier if we all had a sign or something that conveyed what we're doing when we're being silent or introspective. But, alas, it doesn't happen that way.

    Maybe you came across as rude or anti-social but that cashier didn't do much better, to tell you the truth.

  2. I totally understand what you're saying! I often feel the same way when trying to choose from many options. And I can see the processing that my son goes through in similar situations. He actually talks himself through the decision-making process, and because he is talking quietly to himself people think he is talking to them, then start asking him questions that he tries to process along with the original decision-process.
    Yesterday, was the ultimate son was being interviewed by a psychologist we had never met before, and the man was asking questions and expecting immediate responses. I realize the psychologist may have been putting my son to a test, as this was an evaluation to prove his disability for social security, but it was very frustrating for me to watch my son in this situation.

    As for your situation, it would really be nice if all employers would give their employees some sensitivity training for dealing with people with disabilities and emphasize that not all disabilities are visible! "Everyone is dealing with something".

    1. In my job as an occupational therapist, there are certain times during my work day where thinking quickly (even if it's coming up with a not-as-optimal idea) is better than thinking deeply for several minutes. In the eyes of any boss in my field or anyone who might be observing me, long processing time can be perceived as incompetence and/or lack of preparation. After all, every second of treatment is precious. So while I agree that employers have to be understanding of autistic individuals might have to take longer than others to process and organize thinking, we also have to adapt if we work in certain jobs demand quick and flexible thinking.