- My processing speed is in the bottom 14th percentile of the population.
- This slow processing speed affects my life everyday.
- I have trouble reading menus in time, telling time on analog watches, sometimes I process objects and people very slowly/incorrectly and it takes me along time to talk about science at work
- My boss and I have a ‘system’ that works well for my slow processing speed when we have our weekly meetings.
My brain: the ‘slow’ parts. Part 2. Processing problems!
I’ve always been slow to react to situations around me. I guess I didn’t realize how slow my reaction time was until I was on a flight home with some friends my senior year of high school. A friend asked me a question during a conversion. I immediately asked him to repeat himself because I said I didn’t hear the question. So, he obnoxiously yelled some gibberish at me (because that’s how we did things back then). Immediately after he yelped, “Blablag Goof dum tury furn,” I answered his original question without processing the nonsense that he just said. I remember this because he asked me why I told him to repeat himself when I obviously heard what he said the first time. I really didn’t have an answer; I truly thought I needed to hear the question again. For the rest of the flight, I wondered why I would do that.
This processing delay occurs in my everyday life. I get nervous ordering food at restaurants in part because reading is hard for me but also because I find the ‘ordering time crunch’ very intimidating. I have ordered the wrong thing countless times… I’ve done this so many times that I prefer to order based on pictures. A picture of a delicious burger is much easier for me to process than reading, Red Robin’s description of their most fantastic burger: “Whiskey River BBQ Burger- Basted with our signature Whiskey River BBQ Sauce and lasso’d together with cheddar cheese, crispy onion straws, lettuce, tomatoes & mayo.” I also miss labels like “sugar-free” and “fat-free” when I order ice cream at my local ice cream shop. So when I bite into some delicious rocky-road ice cream I find that it’s bitter and unsatisfying because it’s basically just a bunch of chemicals mixed with milk and ice.
I tell time on an analog watch very slowly. I hate when people asked me for the time because it literally takes me at least 10 seconds of intense staring to figure out what the time is. I know exactly how long it takes me to read my watch because I am literally watching the seconds tick as I’m trying to figure out what the Rubik’s cube on my wrist is displaying. Every time I look at my watch I have to say to myself, “Okay, the small hand is for the hour… OK, it’s on the 4. It’s 4 something. Now, the long hand is on the 6. 6 = 30 min. Okay, it’s 4:30 and some seconds.” My ability to tell time is not automatic. It’s really embarrassing because this simple task is really hard work.
I also have a really hard time reading street signs when I’m driving. If someone is telling me directions, while I’m driving I tell them to just tell me where to turn because, “I’ll probably miss it.”
It’s not just words and numbers that take me a long time to process. I also misinterpret people and objects. In my periphery I might see a black dog at first glance but when I stop and take a second look I discover that the dog is actually a trash bag! Another example occurred while I was running. One day when I was jogging I quickly glanced up at a couple holding hands, only to realize that the “couple” was actually two people passing each other on the street, walking in the opposite direction!
The slow processing speed also affects me at work when I’m spoken too. In particular, it slows down my weekly progress-report meeting with my boss. I always bring a pen and paper because I have to write down everything I want to remember. I literally have to put the meeting on pause while I write down all of the new experiments and their modifications we are discussing. Because I can only process so many things at once, I find myself repeating what she tells me so I know that I am writing down the correct information. My boss and I have come to an understanding that this is the only way I will be able to get everything out of our meetings. The meetings may take a little longer but I feel like I get everything out of them that I can. It really helps that my boss is 100% supportive of my learning style.
To give you a better idea how I manage my processing issues I’ll demonstrate what a meeting with my boss is like. I first tell her all about my new data (data are currency in science). I’ll carefully explain how I did each of my experiments. I take my time explaining this part because my mouth can get ahead of my brain and when that happens I talk in circles and I get off task very easily. So, I try to take deep (silent) breaths before I explain something new. I also pause shortly between ideas, to give me a second to process what I told her and make sure I didn’t leave anything out. My boss is very good at listening to me and giving me that extra time. When I feel like I need to write down what she is saying, I repeat what she says in my head one time. Then I’ll repeat it quietly while I write it down. This also lets my boss know that I need some extra time to get all this new information out. She patiently waits while I write my notes. This process continues until I tell her my plan for the coming week.
The main issue I am trying to get across is that I am consistently guessing what is going on around me. This “guessing” is my way of adapting to my slow processing speed. I’ve adapted by translating what I think I see and hear into what I think should be there. So when I am at work, in a meeting or class I constantly repeat what I am hearing so I don’t assume the wrong thing. I also have found some simple techniques that have helped me get past my processing issues.