Hang On, Lemme Process That For You
March 31, 2008

In high school, I can remember my speech teacher, Mr. Schumacher, talking about different kinds of learners. Some people learn visually, some aurally, some through written word. I'd never thought about this before, but I could instantly apply it to various classes and friends. Mr. Schumacher went on to talk about introverts and extroverts and a variety of other personality differences - he did this partly because we were a class of sophomores, juniors and seniors with varying comfort levels about high school, and partly because his was one of the very few high school classrooms where I rarely saw any kind of bullying happen. Mr. Schumacher was excellent at observing his students and preventing crappy behaviour before it even started. To this day, he is my role model when I consider going back to teaching.

Since I've left high school, I've done loads of reading on developmental stages of psychology, personality tests such as the Meyers-Briggs and processing issues like dyslexia, ADD and austism.

What I find fascinating is that nearly all of this really speaks to how we process the information which bombards us each day and how our filters deal with the overwhelming amount of information.

For example, many autists cannot stand tags in their clothes. Why? Because those individuals cannot stop processing the sensations from the tag. Think about the worst itch you ever had in your life - chicken pox, mosquito bite, poison ivy - that itch that you just could NOT stop thinking about and acting upon. What if the tag on the back of your shirt felt like that? What if that "itch" was literally so intense that it locked up your ability to think and became something you HAD to deal with NOW, regardless of what people thought? What if, in fact, you could not even fathom the thought "what will people think about my gyrations to get this thing off of me" because that itch was literally all you could focus on?

That's one form of processing disorder and often a common trait in autism.

What if, on the other end of the spectrum, every bit of information being tossed at you seemed equally important? Everything from the way the seam of your shorts feels kind of funny under your thigh to the rocking motion of your recliner to the level of light in the room to the feel of the keyboard under your fingers, the sound of the rain outside, the ringing of the phone, the colour of the dust motes floating in front of you, the sound of the keyboard, the sound of the cat walking across the room, the sound of your partner shifting weight slightly and lifting a beer, the smell of the Glade plugin that you read somewhere was a fire hazard and you keep meaning to unplug, the way the light flickers across the black polish of the television casing, the little bit of dust on your monitor --

Of all of those things, what is the one item that probably needs an immediate response?

With some kinds of processing disorders, you literally can't classify those according to importance. Sometimes that's an issue with autism; sometimes one with attention deficit.

What if you are so focused on what you are doing - on a regular basis, not just every once in a while - that you cannot see nor hear all of those stimuli?

What if you are so focused on your peculiar interest, that you have never learned to interpret the nuances of facial expressions? Would you know the difference between polite interest, avid interest and flirtation?

What truly fascinates me is not just the many ways in which we process (or don't process) the world around us - but the reasons why as well. For some, it's an official diagnosis of autism or asperger's or attention deficit disorder. For some, it's simply "absent-mindedness" or "bad social skills" or simply the function of a particular time, place and project.

For some, it's a biochemical process of the brain which "fouls" the "normal" ways of processing. For some, it's a matter of learning or training. For others, it's that they were never taught how to process or their environment kept them from processing in a "normal" fashion. And if that happens at an early enough age, that also affects the brain chemistry so that it might not be fully possible to learn to process "normally."

We all have our processing quirks and blind spots. Some are by choice, by faith or due to hard wiring.

And all of these processing foibles are a small portion of what makes so many of us exclaim, "If you'd just listen to me" or "if you'd just do what I told you" then all the ills of the moment could be fixed.

But the truth of the matter is ...

... we process all of those bits of information through our own experiential filters in our own ways ... and that inevitably leads to differences in what bits we process as most and least important.

It is the variety of ways in which we process the world around us which makes communication and accord so difficult, and yet it is also one of our greatest strengths as well, as new ways of processing teach us new concepts and ideas.

It's just that sometimes, we need to remember that the other guy's way of processing may not be wrong, merely different.

Posted by Red Monkey at March 31, 2008 5:18 PM | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Tara R. said:

I wish some of my son's teachers could read this post... thanks for explaining ADHD so well. That last line says it all.

March 31, 2008 10:28 PM


Anok said:

It's tough to remember to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. My husband has ADHD, and I am somewhat Obsessive Compulsive, so we are at odds a lot.

March 31, 2008 11:01 PM


Jackal said:


April 1, 2008 9:53 AM


Pam Baker said:

What a wealth of insight ! The more people understand the better we can be equipped to help each other excel.

April 9, 2008 7:28 PM
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