My Struggle with Verbal Instruction

If you ever feel a sense of panic when given verbal instructions, you’re not alone! Whenever I’m asked to “will you please get whatever from the closet on the middle shelf to the right of whatever”, my immediate reaction is like a robot twirling around, waving its arms, yelling “Panic Alert!”

I often often find myself frustrated when given verbal instructions, whether at home, or in the workplace, or elsewhere.  I didn’t know why until I was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

This diagnosis prompted me to wonder if my long-held habit of asking for a repeat of what someone has said to me, particularly instructions, is related to my syndrome. Since my diagnosis, I have been doing research on ASD and learned verbal instruction is one of the things those with ASD struggle with. I don’t think it is so much of a lack of hearing that I ask for a repeat, but a need to be given more seconds to process what I am hearing.

An example of my trouble with verbal instruction was in a kindergarten class. While doing circle time, the teacher asked me to “get the phone”. I interpreted that to mean to go over to her landline phone at her desk and answer it. I was bewildered since I hadn’t heard the phone ring, but I thought, “Oh, well, my hearing isn’t what it used to be.” All I got was a dial tone.

I looked back at the teacher who pointed at her cell phone. I took that to mean it was her cell phone that needed answering. Again, I was puzzled since it wasn’t ringing either. I should have acted on my bewilderment and asked for clarity, but I was in panic mode. I picked it up and heard nothing.

That’s when the teacher told me her instruction of “getting the phone” was to simply go over to her cell phone, pick it up and hand it to her. Now if she had said, “hand me the cell phone”, I would have understood what she wanted.

I was humiliated! I wondered what the teacher must have thought. At least, what had happened went over the kinders’ heads. She probably would have received her cell phone sooner if she had asked one of them to “get the phone” since the children are probably more familiar with cell than landline phones.

My diagnosis has explained so much of how I think, feel, and act. Now when I think of that moment in the kinder class, I’m reminded of the words of a song, “Now I don’t feel so BAD!”

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