“Yeah, mumble mumble last night mumble mumble meal mumble Friday?” Oops. You just asked me something. What did you just say? Well, based on what you were talking about before – the bits I managed to catch – I guess you just asked me if I want to go out for a meal Friday. I’d better see if I’m correct – ask a hopefully relevant question and see what you say: “A meal this Friday? Where?”
At this point I either come across as “normal”, following the conversation, or I just dropped a spanner in the works and confused the heck out of you. And I never know which it’s going to be! The problem is that if there’s any distraction – background noise or movement in particular – then I fail to distinguish the speaker’s voice. I know they’re talking to me, I can see their lips moving and hear sounds, but even concentrating intently I can only interpret the odd word and have to guess the rest from context.
More often than I care to admit somebody will say something to me and I’ll respond with some acknowledgement. It’s several seconds later that I finally work out what they said and can tell whether my response was appropriate. Or whether I just looked stupid again.
See if you can work out the meaning of this short extract. To make things easier I’ve left in most of the nouns:
__________ impairment ___ social _________ stereotyped and restricted patterns ______ activities and interests, and _____ally signi_____lay in cog______opment or general _____ language.
This is from a description of Aspergers Syndrome that I’ve quoted previously. I admit I’ve been selective in the bits I blanked out, but this is only for the purpose of illustration. In a real situation there would be snatches of other conversations interleaved with this one, and the whole would be obscured by background noise:
The thing is, I don’t have hearing problems. I can pick up faint sounds like the clock ticking at home. I score in the average range in hearing tests. But if somebody says something while the TV is on – or there’s music playing or other conversations going on around us – then although I can hear all the sounds, I can’t separate them very well. It’s a problem with processing the sensory input and I find it hard work and very frustrating, so I often keep out of conversations in noisy environments. In fact I prefer to avoid noisy social environments altogether.
With all this it’s no surprise I prefer to communicate in writing – through email, text or similar mechanisms. The words are in front of me, not obscured by noise, and there is no need for an immediate response. I can take the time to compose my reply, re-reading their comment if necessary and thinking of le mot juste – the right word that will exactly convey my intended meaning.
3 thoughts on “Filling in the Blanks”
I also have the same problem and afaik. it's called Background Noise Problem or Cocktail Party Syndrome (CPS)
I seem to experience this a little differently. Initially I’ll just get a bunch of sounds but they won’t make sense as words or sentences. Not even as partial words or phrases. Then my brain seems to start comparing them to the most likely combinations using context clues. I think that’s what accounts for the lag time between hearing the sounds of the words and understanding them as meaningful things. Often by the time I ask the person to repeat themselves and they do, I’ve worked out what they said the first time, which is even more frustrating because being the impatient communicator that I am, I’ll then interrupt their repetition to tell them that I get it now. *sigh*