Decoding My Autism

For a long time, I've tried to understand what goes on in my brain. Along the way, I've learned some things and made discoveries that have helped me live a better life.

  • Dan Bell

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Writing this blog has been a learning journey, both about myself and about autism.

What I share on this blog isn't some body of knowledge that I already had, that I've been doling out piece by piece. My research and study into autism and the human body is an ongoing process, and quite a few things I've shared on the blog are things I've learned since I've started writing it.

In the process, I've also learned more about myself. Learning the underlying mechanisms of autism helps me understand my own behavior, and why I react to certain things the way I do.

In just the past few weeks, I've learned something about myself - I've learned that I have an auditory processing disorder.

I've seen accounts of people that only learned they had autism in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s. While I've known I had autism since I was 12, it took until the age of 32 to learn that I have an auditory processing disorder.

For years now, I've had times when I had difficulty hearing or understanding people. Many times I can hear them just fine. But other times, they seem to be talking too quietly for me to understand. I once had a coworker that I literally repeated everything she said to me to make sure I understood her - I think it annoyed her.

Or if people talked to me unexpectedly, calling my name, I'll have trouble recognizing what they're saying. Or I'll hear something completely different from what they were saying.

And I just seemed to credit it to them speaking too softly for me to hear them. But in retrospect, that doesn't make any sense. I actually have better than average hearing. I'll pick up on and make out sounds that people wouldn't expect. I even had a supervisor at work tell me "You have better hearing than most people". Still, the occasional challenges with understanding what people said remained.

And then, a few months back, I was reading The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin. In it, she talks about sensory processing issues, including auditory (or sound/hearing) processing.

As she describes, auditory processing issues can take different forms. This can include being hypersensitive to sound (which I am), stuttering, and difficulty understanding the meaning of words.

None of these were surprising to me. However, one of them caught my attention because it was different: "Has difficulty hearing hard consonants, hears more easily".

As I reflected on this, I realized that this is what was happening for me. When one soft-spoken coworker would call my name, I would have trouble hearing them. It's because my name, Dan, is two hard consonants with a vowel in between. I would more readily hear the vowel, but because an "a" sound by itself had little meaning, my brain would ignore it. They would usually have to repeat my name before I heard and understood them.

Realizing that I had an auditory processing disorder was likening on a light bulb for me. Suddenly, I better understood why I sometimes have trouble understanding people. It isn't how they are speaking, although some people are easier for me to understand than others because of how they speak. Rather, it's how I'm hearing them. It helps me recognize what's going on and gets me to focus better on what they're saying so that I can understand them.

It goes along with all my other problems with words and speech. I sometimes have trouble putting words into sentences. As I talked about in an earlier post, the nerve bundle in my brain that connects the speech centers and motor centers, the arcuate fasciculus, is thinner than normal, as it typically in autism. The ability to understand spoken words also goes through this nerve bundle, so having it be thinner can pose problems with understanding words as well.

I also recently learned from my mother than I was nonverbal when I was little. Instead of words, I would make this shrieking noise that gave my family headaches. It was this high-pitched hum that I continued to do as a form of stimming until my early teens.

So, I am still learning about autism and about myself. And there is so much more to learn. Thank you for joining me on my journey.

If I could ask a favor? I'm trying to going my readership. If you've found my posts helpful, or know someone that might benefit from them, please share! There are social media sharing buttons included at the bottom of each post for easy sharing to Facebook and Twitter. There is a subscribe option at the bottom of the page that will send you an email when I post a new article, and I have a Facebook page for the blog as well.

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