The world we live in is a fast paced world. A lot of information is funnelled through all our sensory systems, all day long. As a society, we tend to want everything to happen fast – fast service, fast food, fast response times. This poses some challenges for people with autism.
Most autistic people experience some level of difficulty with communication in particular with processing. Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, make sense of it and begin to respond. This information can be visual, such as letters and numbers. It can also be auditory, such as spoken language. “Having slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart a person is – it’s just about how fast they can take in and use information” https://www.understood.org/.
My T has significant issues with processing auditory information. As a young child he had significant issues with his ears – recurrent infections, a number of perforated ear drums and he had surgery for grommets. Children who suffer with their ears in their younger years can often have auditory processing concerns. So for T processing information is tricky due to his autism and because of his hearing history. His teachers have often questioned his hearing (which is fine) because he will ask for information to be repeated a number of times or respond “What?” over and over – in a bid to hear the information again. If he’s tired he’s more likely to just say, “I don’t know” because it’s too tiring to develop an appropriate response. He is unable to process auditory information if there is another sound source in the room such as a TV, music or someone else talking. He often asks us to make the environment quiet. This poses a lot of challenges in the schooling environment. There are lots of things we can do to help though.
- Keep directions simple and perhaps limited to 1-2 steps at a time
- State the person’s name to gain their attention before giving information
- When you ask a question … stop and wait for a response. Give the person time to process and respond (this may take 15-30 seconds sometimes … just wait!)
- Give more time to complete tasks
- Reduce the work load and complexity of tasks (homework, chores etc) to improve their capacity to complete the task independently
- Use visual supports where possible
A person who is struggling to process information can feel very overwhelmed and anxious. For children, they can become disengaged with learning due to frustration, and it can also impact social interactions and relationships. The best thing you can do to support someone who needs more processing time is to keep what you say simple and give them the time they need to respond.
PS ++ Much of this information came from the Understood website. Understood is an amazing resource for parents and educators. It provides information, tips and knowledge about learning and attentional concerns. I highly recommend having a look. https://www.understood.org/.