From time to time we all need a bit of extra time to make sense of what someone has said. This is known as processing time. Complexity and familiarity tend to make us need more and less time respectively.
Some autistic people need extra time processing information when the information is social or the person has to read between the lines (inference). Some argue they only need extra processing time when they have to make sense of non-autistic people’s style of communication!
I am currently working with an insightful young girl on her making sense of her autism. We were talking about needing extra time to sort out information in her head. She described this extra processing time as her ‘loading dots’.
What a marvellous term and so illustrative of how time is needed to ‘load’ the full picture for what has been said. It also suggests that the ‘picture’ is no less in quality (i.e. it is not about being ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’).
Two communication strategies you can use to reduce the processing time a person needs when you communicate together are:
1. Do not overload with lots of information. Only give one or two ideas at a time. Remember that ‘not responding’ might mean the person is processing what you have said. Don’t go ruining a perfectly good line of thinking by interjecting or adding additional information.
2. Be specific about what you mean by what you say. Use less of the inferential, floral language that helps some but rarely autistic people.