This is… uh… my p-post… about… y’know… t-t-talking… and stuff

I really do not want to come across as arrogant or self-congratulatory here, but I must say that I am an exceptionally skilled writer. Despite what I said in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough” about rarely feeling 100% satisfied with my work, I will admit that, from an objective point of view, I can write some rather commendable pieces. This is at least what I’ve been told countless times by family members, professors, and other people who have seen my academic essays and blog posts. Additionally, I believe that I’m rather good at writing emails, personal letters, and even simple text messages. The bottom line here is that when it comes to written communication, I am usually able to get my points across effectively and express my thoughts eloquently.

Verbal communication, however, is a completely different story for me. Oh boy, if you think I can speak about as well as I can write, then you are dead wrong. When I try to express myself verbally, it hardly ever comes out precisely how I’d like it to. I could practically go on forever describing how poor I am at oral communication, so I will try my best to give a sufficient explanation of the issue without going too overboard.

To start with, it seems like I have profound difficulty getting the exact words that I want to say to come out of my mouth. It’s hard to fully explain what I mean by this, but I guess you could say it’s very similar to what tends to happen when you’re trying to talk to someone while extremely nervous. Consequently, whenever I’m trying to share a certain idea with or make a specific statement to someone else, what I end up actually saying to them does a poor job at articulating that sentiment. In most cases, my speech suffers from terrible diction, very flawed grammar, incomplete sentences, unclear phrasing, constant repetition, misuse of certain words, and tons of “um’s” and “eh’s.”

Allow me to illustrate what this can look like in daily life. Let’s say that I’m having a casual conversation with a friend, and we are talking about the most recent Pixar film, Inside Out. A one point, I wish to comment on how I adore the movie’s ability to make the audience experience sorts of emotions, putting them on a sort of “roller coaster of emotions” as it progresses. Now the statement that I would want to come out of my mouth looks something like this: “Yeah, what I enjoyed most about this movie is just how emotionally powerful it is; how it is able to make us feel all these different sentiments depending on what the characters are going through. There are moments when you are genuinely happy and cheerful when watching it, as well as moments when you seriously just want to cry your eyes out. That is simply amazing!” Unfortunately, the actual words that come out of my mouth will most likely sound like this: “Uh yeah, I r-r-really liked how that movie… y’know… makes you feel and… feel all these feelings. There are m-moments when you’re really happy and moments when really you want to cry. I mean… uh… y’know… it’s just… so moving!” As hard as I try to articulate the former statement, for some reason, I cannot help but speak the latter statement.

This issue is prevalent whenever I am engaged in nearly any sort of dialogue with one or more other people, regardless of who they are. It occurs when talking to my parents, friends, other family members, bosses at work, academic professors, or complete strangers. The only time when I can speak much more fluently is when I’m talking to myself (yeah, I do that a lot, and I’ll cover it in a future blog post). Unsurprisingly, verbal communication becomes even more problematic for me when I’m trying to be formal and respectful with the other person – e.g., meeting new people at a party or answering questions during job interview. Indeed, the very first thing people tend to notice about me is how awkward I sound when talking to them.

Expressing myself in words is even more difficult in situations when I’m feeling very stressed or under a ton of pressure. My speech is then filled with even more “um’s” and “eh’s,” and I can hardly get any of the words that I want to speak to come out right. On top of this, I can’t help but stutter a little every couple of seconds, and take long pauses to process my thinking before I continue speaking. It’ll essentially sound like I’m about to have panic attack, even if what’s happening at the moment doesn’t warrant it in the least. This most likely connects to my struggles with anxiety (See “Not allowing myself peace: Anxiety and Me”), since it tends to affect me a bit more harshly than it does most other people.

What is most interesting about this whole situation is that, as mentioned in my post “Tim, please… keep it to yourself”, I actually really like to talk to other people. Despite how challenging it can be to express myself verbally, I still like to engage in conversation with other people (predominately family and friends) whenever I can. To make matters worse (again, as I explained in “Tim, please… keep it to yourself), I cannot help but open my mouth a bit more frequently than I should, often dominating the conversation and going into lengthy rants. As a result, I sometimes end up making a bit of an ass of myself, chattering on and on while sounding like a blend of Jeff Goldblum, a political talk show host, and a nervous 7-year-old (yeah that’s the best description I could think of).

I realize that problems with verbal communication aren’t exactly uncommon among Aspies or people on the autism spectrum, so I’ll bet there are plenty of people out there who can identify with what I’m saying in this post. I have already mentioned before that knowing how to properly converse with other individuals simply doesn’t come naturally to us as it does for most neuro-typicals. So I do understand why there are many people with Asperger Syndrome who prefer not to engage in verbal dialogue with others at all. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it really sucks not being able to express oneself as fluently or clearly as most others can. It is my hope that we each eventually find a way to make oral communication much simpler for us, as it would be especially helpful in matters such as getting a steady job and expanding our social lives.

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“Tim, please, just shut up.”

I have a question for you. Do any of these queries seem at all familiar to you?

“When am I allowed to speak up?”

“When am I supposed to be just quiet and listen?”

“Should I continue talking or shut my mouth now?”

“How come no one seems interested in what I have to say?”

“How come I can never find the right time to raise my thoughts during a conversation?”

“Why do I have so much trouble with shutting myself up and letting others speak?”

“Should I even enter this conversation at all, or should I leave it alone?”

“How can I possibly contribute to a conversation I have no interest in to begin with?”

“Why does it have to be such a chore for me to simply verbally communicate with people?”

These are the kinds of questions that I think to myself almost every time I try to casually chat with other people. It’s almost never a simple, straight-forward task for me because I have difficulty recognizing when I should open my mouth, for how long I should keep it open, and when I should be quiet and listen.

People with ASD, including Asperger Syndrome, commonly experience certain troubles with interpersonal communication, especially with understanding the various “unwritten rules” of our society when it comes to having a standard social dialogue. More specifically, the appropriate time and context to provide verbal input, what kind of input they should provide, and how they should specifically frame their input isn’t generally clear to them. As a result, engaging in a productive, two-sided (or more-sided) dialogue can be more of a challenge for Aspies like me than most everyone else.

This is not to say that I can’t ever hold a good, meaningful conversation with anyone, or that I almost never talk to anyone – very far from it! I’ve had the pleasure of having countless great discussions with other individuals which were highly amusing, informative, and comforting on both ends. Plus I actually really enjoy chatting with people when I’m in the right mood, preferably with good friends and close relatives. It’s just that I really need to learn how to be a much more self-conscious and patient speaker.

For one thing, I very frequently find myself going off some kind of long, boring tangent when discussing a certain topic of interest. What happens is that once I perceive an opportunity for me to speak out about something that interests me, I immediately take it and end up sharing practically everything on my mind concerning the subject. Without realizing it, I quickly get carried away and establish myself as the center of the conversation, inadvertently neglecting to give the other person their chance to speak. This usually leaves the other person or people slightly agitated at me and completely unengaged in what I’m saying. They anxiously wait for me to be done with my endless monologue, sometimes trying to find a polite way of telling to be shut up and let them have a turn. Unfortunately, I won’t realize I was dominating the discussion until it’s too late, leaving me to feel very guilty for being so inconsiderate to the other individuals involved.

Meanwhile, when trying to have a verbal exchange with others, I tend to talk about things that only I want to discuss, even when no one else has any interest in it at all. Sometimes I might begin a “conversation” completely out of nowhere regarding a subject matter that I desperately feel like sharing – simply for the sake of “getting it off my chest.” Alternatively, I might find a way to bring this subject into an active discussion which bears very little to no relevancy to the topic. In any case, it will usually dissolve into a one-sided rant like I described earlier, meaning that people have to listen to me jabbering on and on about something they honestly couldn’t care less about. Even though I may have gotten better at this over the years, I still find myself making this mistake every so often.

This brings me to one of my more regrettable habits, which is interrupting people when they’re in the middle of talking so that I can express my thoughts. Despite my constant efforts to try giving other people their space to say what they want to say, it remains a hard challenge to keep my mouth shut and pay attention while others talking. If I feel like I really have to get my thoughts out, then I may not be able to wait my turn or save what I have to say till the other person is done.

This is especially prevalent when there is some disagreement between me and the other person. If I really don’t want to hear what someone is communicating to me, I may try to block it out by abruptly cutting them off and giving a counter argument. A good example of this is when I used to talk to my parents about schoolwork or my behavior as a child and teenager. Whenever they would try to say something that I didn’t like or made me somewhat bad, I would instinctively try to shut them up and say something like, “Y-yeah, BUT!” or “I know, I know. Just lemme talk now, I wanna talk!”

What makes this ironic is the fact that I personally hate being interrupted by others. Indeed, if someone tries to correct or disrupt me before I finish speaking (which, as you remember, will often take a while), I often react irritated and aggressively insist that I be allowed to finish. Jeez, double standards much, Tim?

In a similar vein, I often have trouble identifying when I’m allowed to contribute to a conversation involving several others. It can be awfully annoying when I want to join in on a discussion and I’m apparently not given any room to contribute. I’ll keep waiting as patiently as I can to find an opportunity for me to share my thoughts, but the right moment never seems to come because someone else will always speak up whenever I think it’s my turn. Sometimes I will lose my patience and decide to interrupt someone who’s still talking so that I can finally say what I’ve been holding back. In other cases, I may give up on trying to contribute at all to the conversation and either stay completely silent, or simply walk away and leave the exchange altogether.

To make matters even more awkward and problematic, I also experience a great amount of difficulty being still and listening to conversations involving topics that aren’t relevant or interesting to me. When sitting in on a discussion about something that I don’t have any thoughts or opinions on, I may have a pretty strong urge to try changing the subject or stand up to leave, both of which I know are incredibly rude things to do. Trying to sit still and wait for a topic to come up that does interest me can be extremely boring and tedious for me, especially given my ADHD (which I will discuss in a later blog post). It’s one of several important reasons why I don’t attend parties or hang out with large groups of people too regularly.

I am certainly trying to improve my conversational abilities as best as I can, but there is definitely a lot of progress that needs to be made. While I might be better at giving other people room to talk and listening to what they have to say, I still need to learn how to stop myself from going on lengthy, tiresome rants and knowing the right time & context to express my thoughts. Above all, I need to learn how to keep certain thoughts to myself and understand that not every single thing on my mind needs to be shared with others. I am also very fortunate to have so many people throughout my life – friends, relatives, co-workers, random strangers, etc – who were patient enough not to yell, “Oh my god, just shut up, Tim!” when I was getting particularly annoying. I probably would not be able to restrain myself if I were in their shores.