The problem with conversations

I think I hold perfectly good conversations. I’m the only one who believes this though. So what’s the problem with my ability to hold a conversation To NT standards? The following points are purely from my own perspective, I’m not claiming I know or understand the neurology behind them and others may have a different view depending on their experiences.  

I think there are a number of things going on here. Firstly of course there is the social aspect. NTs use 2 way conversation as a bonding exercise as well as to impart information. I use it as a way to impart information. If I want to hear what the other person has to say, I’ll happily stay quiet and listen. But since silly chit chat about the weather, sports results or hearing about someone’s latest visit to the doctor (yet again) holds no interest for me, there’s nothing useful to learn, my mind will quickly wander to something that I consider interesting and off I go. It may be what is so charmingly called verbal diarrhoea, but it’s informative diarrhoea 😂😂. 

Now this is the point at which I believe several autistic traits clash together at one time. Special interests, verbal language processing and and executive functioning with a side helping of lack of interest in the social aspect of conversation (bonding). 

I can’t do it two-way because that would require holding 2 things in my head at one time, what I want to say next, and what the other person is saying. As soon as they say something that I want to respond to, it just falls out of my mouth, no pause, no waiting for the other person to stop, and the other person may carry on for another sentence, or even two, but that doesn’t stop me, once I’m off the starting blocks there seems to be no stopping me. But then the trouble is my own verbal processing. I usually have a lot of pauses as I speak, it’s a bit like video streaming buffering, in the days before superfast Internet. I speak a bit, but the next words are taking their time to travel from my brain to my mouth, so there’s a pause while I refill my speech cache enough to carry on. I can actually feel this happening, I know the words I want to say next in my head, but they stubbornly refuse to reach my mouth in a nice smooth timely manner. Trust me, it’s as annoying for me as it must be to listen to. So. Sometimes it’s as if the words are right there, in the air just in front of me, but I can’t quite reach them to send them out of my Mouth. I’m sure everyone, autistic or not, has times like this, but  for me, this is how I talk all of time. 

Then something odd happens, or to me it’s odd anyway. I pause, waiting for my brain to catch up to send the words on their way out into the big wide world, but what does that pause mean to most NT’s? Ah, yes, it’s time to reply. So I haven’t finished what I’m trying to say, them someone interrupts me. Or at least to me it’s interrupting. They start off on a reply, or something to continue the conversion, while I’m left thinking “what on earth happened? Didn’t they realise I haven’t finished?” But this doesn’t matter to non autistics, because they are used to conversing about nothing in particular, that’s what they do. Whereas while I can make an effort and ask silly questions that I don’t really care about (Do you think it’ll rain today? Where did you get your hair done? Where are you going on holiday?), I generally want a conversation to have some structure,  meaning and propose. So although I may pause, it doesn’t mean I meant for you to interject, it means what it sounds like, a pause. The fact that this happens so often to me highlights to me just how little attention non autistic people pay to the actual words in a conversation, it really is about verbal back and  forth for them, social bonding, and nothing more. How very odd indeed. Why speak if you aren’t going to exchange useful information, isn’t that why we humans talk?  Plenty of other animals have noises for social bonding, finding a mate, warning of danger. Only we humans have the ability to pass on detailed information via sound communication, so why waste it on silly nothings? Oh well, if it keeps some people happy, hey ho. 

Of course that is only part of the full picture. As an autistic I excel at hogging a conversation, or more accurately I suppose I should say I excel at monologues, even if they do have a bit of a juddery pace. I think part of the pausing is also the result of my keenness to impart what I believe is highly interesting and useful information, so I simply can’t speak fast enough to get it out as fast as the thoughts are occurring in my brain, the words come so fast that it’s like trying to squeeze 4 lanes of traffic down through a single lane tunnel, it all jams up and grinds to a halt from time to time. 

My husband and I have very polar opposite styles of communication. He’s like a race horse on speed. He charges around, multi tasking faster than most women (although whether he’s very thorough is debatable) and words spill out of his mouth left right and centre as he switches from one topic to another.  Whereas I may wander along a meandering path as I talk, but it’s all one long flow, all connected, and I need time to move on from one topic to the next. I also need time to listen to the sounds, hear and process the words. We have recently become aware that most of our arguments arise when this mismatch of communication styles clashes. He’s going so fast and I can’t keep up, I get stressed, I shout, and boom, we are off. Or I’m taking too long for him, not getting to my point fast enough, he gets stressed, he shouts, boom, we are off. The exact trigger point is almost always lost because we now realise it’s all about the mismatch in the way we communicate. Actually, the other mismatch is my love of detail and his need for speed and he’s happy to just go with the essential bullet points in order to achieve that. The more detail the better for me, no matter how long that takes. Anyway, we’ve been thinking about this alot lately, now we know we are literally running different operating systems. I’m reminding him to slow down for me, and I’m trying to write things down before talking to him, so I can do it quicker and with less meandering deviation and unnecessary (to him at least) detail. It’s improving, little by little we are finding a place to meet in the middle. It’s not easy, but we are trying, and trying again and although practice may not mean 100% perfect, improvements are always a good thing. And I am making a special effort to allow everyone else their say, even if it means I have to listen to a bit of small talk along the way. I love my family dearly, and if this is what I need to do to maintain a strong bond with them, that is what I will endeavour to do. In return they might need to allow me the occasional monologue but hopefully we’ll all be giving as well as taking in a fair manner and they will understand that despite appearances sometimes, I am genuinely interested in their lives. 

End of monologue 😀😀😀👏👏👏


Author: thiswomanisdifferent

Coming to terms with Asperger's syndrome at 56 years old.

6 thoughts on “The problem with conversations”

  1. conversation with nts is an art. basically, none of them are really interested in the small talk, its like the noise that aol (and other online services) used to make when connecting. but as nts, they have to pretend its important. its part of their protocol.

    so its not about really finding interest in that stuff, though if you know someone well its good (at least preferable) to keep track of a few details about their kids, if they have them and tell you about them. just make certain not to let the accuracy of your recall show, because if you know that johnny went to softball practice on april 20th 2014, and you bring up that level of detail about it, someone may get the very wrong impression indeed.

    youre supposed to know what they tell you, but not with an unusual level of accuracy. they presume that means youre obsessed with their kids. so always leave out an aspie level of details.

    all this assumes you want to have flawless conversation with non-aspies. if you dont, thats one less thing to worry about. you can just say “nice to see you,” excuse yourself, and go on about your day. eventually they will think you dont care about them (and perhaps you dont, but you may) and they will stop talking to you. but you know all that already.

    you can make a hobby of nearly anything, including talking to nts. its a hobby of mine. its awful when they make it a requirement or more than a hobby– can you imagine, having to do that on a constant basis? yeah, of course you can. good luck. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good points codeinfig. I don’t care about conversations with people I barely know, but it matters to me that I can interact well with people I do care about. That mainly means my close family, but also some my work colleagues who have been incredibly supportive to me during my time of crisis. So I feel I owe it to them to repay their kindness by making an effort to join in conversations on their terms sometimes. I’m learning to make an effort to ask about things that they care about, and to listen even if I’m not that interested (trips to hair salons seems to be important to them for example). There are things I can’t change and some I don’t want to, but if I expect others to make some accommodations for me it seems only fair that I make some effort in return. That’s what loving someone is about after all isn’t it. Conversation is something that maybe tiring for me, but it’s possible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As I try to figure out my own place on the spectrum, it’s always enlightening to read of others’ experiences, so I really enjoyed this post. Some of it I see in myself as well. I’ve been thinking recently that maybe I’m not as good at conversation as I thought I was. First I noticed how much small talk annoys me. I can make small talk perfectly well if I have to, but it’s an effort. Luckily, most of it happens in the office with several participants, so the onus of replying is not on me – I can just zone out and do something more important, like reading blog posts 😉
    The pauses when I talk – yes, definitely. I think that comes from a passion for precision, I search for exactly the right words to express myself. Also I tend towards sesquipedalian loquaciousness, and those multi-syllabic words take a while to form. This is also when I stare into space instead of looking at the person I’m talking to. Nobody’s ever commented on that, though.
    I’ve also noticed how often I stumble over my own words, get them all in a tangle and have to start the sentence again. Strangely enough, I’m a pretty decent public speaker. Go figure! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always had a horrible time with small talk. I don’t know what to say, and when I do, the images in my head don’t transfer into words. Was selectively mute as a child. Worse is i don’t know when someone wants to talk or is just pretending to want to talk to me to be polite. I can drive someone crazy with my talking or walk away from someone who really wants to talk to me because of this problem.

    The kids in school hated me because I went on and on about cats and didn’t know when to stop. I just realize looking back they were angry. I had no idea if the girl I was talking to slammed the door, that means she was angry, or why. I engaged in a conversation with my babysitter about how long caveman lived. Just couldn’t hold a conversation with my own age group.

    But those are skills we learn throughout trial and error.

    Liked by 1 person

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