Warning – mental overload imminent

What do you get when you add a big group of people, lots of ideas and instructions in rapid succession and limited autism understanding?

Answer: Public humiliation. Joke of the day. You can stop laughing now.

One of the first things I remember about secondary school is trying to play football. I was surrounded by shouting kids who may or may not have been on my team, a ball that showed no mercy to any body parts it hit and an angry teacher yelling at me for ‘getting caught in possession’.

This is just one example of an information overload. For different people, it may be a different situation. But whatever kind of situation you struggle with most, chances are it leads to that overpowering sense of turmoil that no words, actions or even tears can fully express.

It’s been a while since a situation like that reduced me tears*, and even longer since I’ve had to play football, mercifully. But even at the wise old age (not!) of 22**, I still cannot process long, detailed explanations/instructions. A person will give me just that, I will try to summarise what I think they are trying to communicate, then what do they do? Paraphrase! Not even a yes or no to confirm whether or not I got it the first time. And my brain has to start all over again.

Because I struggle to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, I get confused when people bombard me with lots of detail. I need someone to give me a summary of the basics. Preferably with the scope for me to ask for more detail if I want to. And if I’ve been given a big thing to think about, I need time to think. How has it affected me? What do I need to do next? If I get that time, it could delay others concerned. If not, careful decisions on my part cannot be guaranteed.

Which makes some group tasks challenging. If I could, I would press pause and magically find someone who can help me keep up with what is going on. Who has said what? There is information coming from so many different angles (literally and figuratively). I tend to find myself left out of group discussions unless I really concentrate hard on what is going on and where I could pitch in.

I think the most frustrating thing about needing help understanding things is struggling to explain what I don’t understand or how someone can help me. A bit like being ill but forgetting all words that describe your symptoms as soon as the doctor asks. Perhaps if you are having trouble with information overload at school, uni or work, don’t get worked up trying to explain what went wrong just now. Take five minutes of calm thinking time and try explaining to those involved how you learn best. Tell them that your condition makes it challenging. Be patient with yourself.

And just remember…don’t get caught in possession. Whatever that means.


NB – Months ago I was asked by the National Autistic Society to write a blog post about processing information. I completed the post and sent it off but was then told to send it to them on Word and delete it from my blog because they wanted new material to go on their blog rather than information copied off mine. Now that they are about to publish it, apparently it is ok for me to put it back on my blog. Yay! – 1.4.2016


*Bear in mind I wrote this before my most important third year assessments started piling up. Yes, they were group projects.

**I was 22 when I first wrote this. I’m now 23.


4 thoughts on “Warning – mental overload imminent

  1. Helen Arnold says:

    Awesome! Everyone should read it. x

  2. Karen Hasted says:

    This is really good, I love the idea of a pause button – I wish we could make it happen!

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