Conveyor belts and time overload


Sometimes getting information into or out of my head is like a very long conveyor belt. I set a package onto the conveyor belt, and it starts moving. But when it will get there, who knows. There are things I set on that conveyor belt five, ten, even fifteen years ago that haven’t reached their destinations yet.

Yesterday I had a very processing-intensive meeting. Six people including me were present. I could get some responses out, but they were words-in-response-to-words sorts of things. That bypasses some of the conveyor belt phenomenon but with little comprehension involved. Then by the end of the meeting I was starting to articulate thoughts I had at the beginning of the meeting.

Meanwhile, in the midst of a bunch of these conveyor-beltish tendencies, one woman kept saying, “Can we move on? Can we move on now? Can we move on?” Then she would say a lot of things that were essentially gibberish as far as I could tell. I’d get a couple words and the rest of the sentence fell apart. I was doing my best to communicate, and getting praised in fact for these supposedly wonderful cognitive skills I have (that’s the last thing I coherently remember being said, was how obviously intelligent I was based on my typed conversation), while actually drowning under all sorts of words I couldn’t understand.

I’ve never been sure what intelligence is as a concept, nor the lack of it. That’s not an attempt to be politically correct on my part. I just don’t know what it is and get uneasy when it is brought into discussions because it seems to be a very vague and fuzzy concept.

I do know that the cognitive skills I am good at, are either ones that require processing information at a level more basic than non-autistic people can generally process information (like that test I was given that relied entirely on the matching of patterns without having to add layers of abstract meaning to the patterns), or ones where the information can be collected and put together over a long-term period. When processing information is difficult, I need time for all those conveyor belts to reach their destination. Sometimes a lot of time. But they do get to their destination in the end.

I have a very small number of setups that allow the seemingly rapid processing of information in a small number of areas, but it’s actually just other versions of that more basic-level pattern-matching. I used that to get through the meeting.

This morning, I woke up and could not get out of the meeting. All the conveyor belts were jammed and trying to process the information from the meeting. My staff person arrived and I couldn’t type or respond to a lot of information in general. She did something no staff person I remember has ever done (which in retrospect seems surprising), and grabbed one of my pictureboards. Asked me questions. Gave me time to point to answers. Even though a lot of the answers were pointing to “Confused” and “I don’t know,” that worked better than a lot of things would have.

I’m still stuck in a different set of timeframes. It’s like watching all the conveyor belts go at different rates, with a lot of them loaded with information from the meeting because it was given such high priority. And they’re all going pretty slow. The world itself seems to be moving too fast to keep up with. I’m trying not to lash out at bits of it that show how fast they are, because those tend to be living creatures like cats or humans. The instinctive response seems to be “If I lash out maybe they’ll go away and things won’t be so fast anymore.” Trying to counteract instinct with some amount of reasoning.

I am not sure that people who process information in more typical ways ever have to deal with this weird variety of cognitive backlog except during exceptionally stressful events. In my case I lie down and as soon as I relax my brain goes “Oh goody I can process more information that I didn’t before” and I’m bombarded with a bunch of sounds, smells, sights, etc, from earlier in the day (or week, or year, etc), and then I start trying to generate reactions, most of which are of course too late to do anything, many of which take time to get out too, and which confuse people because then the reactions happen at times that have nothing to do with whatever is going on at that time.

Meanwhile of course I might not have enough space in my head to realize how advanced the mental gridlock has become, or what to do about it. I know when I woke up this morning, I was scared, because I could see only the bare outlines of what was happening, and was mainly getting hit over the head with stimuli even in a quiet bedroom. I kept thinking “Will I get back to now?” and “Will my brain come back?” and stuff like that. During the meeting I realized something was happening, but didn’t realize how far out of sync I’d gotten until I’d had time to figure that much out. (All I really perceived after a point was that I was drowning in gibberish and light and angles and stuff. And I remember trying to say “yes” by handing a block to someone and nobody knew what I was doing.)

I’m still on a long lag time with most things. I’m glad I have one reasonably free way of getting information out, about lag times. (Of course even many of the things I’m saying here are things that have been years in getting from thought to words to typing.) Maybe this is one reason the concept of time is so confusing to me.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

4 responses »

  1. Very interesting read. Except for the fact that I’m able to speak more often, it could have been me. I’ve lately been trying to make suitable words to explain this exact problem, since there are a lot of important meetings coming up (application for disability and housing, etc.), and judging by the few I’ve attended so far, I really need people to understand this. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow some of your words until my own are done.

  2. The NTs have a phrase for it. It’s “stairwell reply.”

    That is, one may have an emotional conversation with someone on his territory, and leave with the feeling of having something to say, but not know exactly what to say and how to say it.

    Then, halfway down the stairwell, one thinks of the perfect retort.

    Hey, autism comes in degrees. Doesn’t it? I mean, I think I’m mostly normal, but have enough of a touch and taste of it to sympathize here.

    All the best, Justthisguy.

  3. Errata for my earlier comment; the speech failure and information processing descriptions were familiar, not the FC parts.

    Also, this is in part one of the few descriptions I do in part find applicable, together with an explanation of why it took me a few months from initial thought and two weeks from inital typing to hitting Publish. Oh well.

    It’s sort of weird. I read the writings of a lot of autistic people, but when it comes to linking to one or a few pieces on a given subject, those by you and a small number of others are those that come to mind, simply because those are the ones that make the most sense to me.

    I’m actually trying to limit that trend when possible, partly to expose people to a wider range of views, but mostly due to old memories of being considered annoying and clingy if I tried giving someone my age any kind of attention.

  4. Pingback: Assorted Thingies › The difference slot

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