I Can’t Hear You: Autism and Perception

Spectrum Perceptions

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I can focus decently in one-on-one conversations in quiet places, and I have no idea why they stuck the rude joke on at the ending – it detracts from the video’s validity.
But the way in which the background noise drowns out the conversation and overlaps into my perception of what people are saying? Absolutely accurate.
People who’ve met me in person know that I focus very intently on folks when talking with and listening to them. Some people find it attractive, others find it disconcerting. For me, it’s necessary. Otherwise, I literally cannot understand what you’re saying.
This is especially true at conventions, clubs, festivals, and so forth, where the amount of background stimuli is intense. That word, “intense,” has been applied to me a lot (both as a compliment and as an insult), and after seeing this video I figure that has a lot to do with the amount of focus I have to put on someone in order to remain coherently engaged in our conversation.
Folks who’ve talked to me in conventions and restaurants know I usually bend one ear in their direction. That’s to screen out the ambient sound so I can hear the words you’re saying. Otherwise, it’s all just noise.
Coyote Ward, an austistic-spectrum activist, was adamant that I am on the spectrum too. When someone first suggested that to me about 15 years ago, I felt deeply offended because I didn’t know what that actually looked like. I’d heard of Aspies and autistic people before then, but it was always in a very negative fashion, and as someone who grew up hearing the word “retarded” a lot and being applied to me, I felt pretty defensive about the idea that I was mildly autistic myself.
The more I have learned about the condition – in very large part thanks to Coyote – the more I’m convinced she was right.
I have social savvy, but it’s mostly learned. Reading people and analyzing social behavior has literally been my job since high school. First as an actor, then as a model, now as a writer, that’s what I do and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
When I recall my childhood, though, and the way I was before I’d honed those skills… let’s just say that if the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (I prefer the term “condition” over “disorder,” but that’s the clinical name for it) had been common knowledge in the United States during the 1970s, I totally would have received that diagnosis. As it was, my parents were told I suffered from “minimal brain dysfunction” – a tactless but not inaccurate description. Friends who’ve known me since high school can attest that I was socially awkward even by teenage standards, and that the person I am now acts radically different than the person I was back then.
For over 20 years, I’ve ascribed my difficulties with perception to dyslexia and dyscalculia. And that’s still true – I DO have those conditions. But the brain is not a discreetly partitioned entity, and sensory-processing conditions are related anyway. So it’s entirely possible I have them all. SPDs run heavy in my family, and while I’m certainly on the lesser end of the spectrum if I’m there at all, this video captured my social perceptions with disturbing acuity.
Watching this will help you understand better why I might have a hard time understanding you in a social situation.
Thank you, Derek Burrow, for posting the video where I could see it, and thank you beloved Coyoteness for helping me understand myself a lot better than I had before I knew you.
And for everybody else, thanks for understanding.

About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
This entry was posted in Bio & Interviews, Politics & Society, Sensory Processing Conditions, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to I Can’t Hear You: Autism and Perception

  1. I don’t see a video. I’m very interested. My brother was recently ,in his 40s , diagnosed on the spectrum.

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