Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Irrelevant Interference

The Differences between Aspie and NT Conversation

by Gavin Bollar,
January 14th 2009

A little while ago, I was asked to explain what the main differences were between aspie and NT Communication, specifically in terms of what each party receives.

We're always being told that Aspies miss non-verbal cues and that they're distracted but do aspies actually pick up more or less elements in conversation?

Here are a couple of lists for comparison based on a normal office desk conversation.

What the NT Gets

  • Voice
  • Facial Expression
  • Verbal Tone
  • Body Language and Posture
  • What the person is wearing
  • Any sufficiently loud or disruptive intrusions

What the Aspie Gets
  • The Voice
  • Non-verbals in a single swoop (discussed below)
  • The books on the bookshelf behind the talker
  • Other people in the room
  • The Flashing lights on their hard drive
  • Traffic outside the office
  • Nice (Groovy) Patterns on the person's tie
  • The Logo on their glasses
  • Scuff marks on their shoes
  • The Screen Saver on the PC behind them.
It's my belief that aspies generally pick up much more of the surroundings regardless of whether or not it is relevant to the conversation.

In fact, I don't believe that this is limited to conversation. I have also noticed it while driving.

When I am in the car, regardless of whether or not I am a passenger or a driver, I seem to notice much more of the surroundings than my NT wife. Strangely enough, I will pick up all kinds of interesting but irrelevant details which she will miss even though she is looking out of the window and directly at them.

Picking Up Non-Verbals in a Single Swoop
The question remains as to whether or not aspies get non-verbal cues in conversations. I think that we do actually pick them up but that we are unable to interpret them in a timely fashion.

It's funny but when I am in the conversation, I usually find that I am struggling to keep up just with the words and that I don't have a great deal of time to think about anything other than what has been said.

It's only when I am going over the conversation back in my office or writing minutes for it or thinking about it on the way home, that I start to go over all of the non-verbal cues. Sometimes it's then that I realise the person wasn't really interested in what I have to say or that they seemed to have trouble accepting an idea.

It is far too late for this new information to have any bearing on the conversation at this point but I will often take that feedback on board an attempt to not discuss the same subjects or the same amount of detail with that person again. One thing that I don't often do however is go back to the person with my new interpretations and attempt to redo the conversation. As far as I can tell, if something wasn't well received once, it's not a good idea to attempt a follow up.

In a sense, we are getting non-verbal cues unfortunately however we are not able to process them in time to make use of them during conversation. This leads outsiders to believe that we are missing them entirely.

Strangely though, one thing that I don't often get (and this could be a male thing rather than an aspie thing) is clothes. Unless someone is wearing an interesting pattern, I'll usually have absolutely no idea what they were wearing. It's like my mind drops that as "irrelevant".

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