People sometimes make assumptions about a person's intelligence level or cognitive abilities by how quickly they respond in conversation. It’s common for people diagnosed with Autism or Aspergers to have a delay in processing information, which may cause a delay in how quickly they respond. We are the NOW generation and want everything fast, fast, fast. We have fast food, we expect fast service and God forbid if our internet connection is running slow!
When we are listening to someone speak or ask us a question, we cross over a very short bridge to process what they are saying and then cross back over that short bridge with our response. Sometimes, we are even crossing back over while the other person is still talking because we want to waste no time! People with Autism and Aspergers generally have longer bridges. It might take them a little while to cross over and process what's being said and then cross back over with their response. People that are communicating with them might misinterpret this to mean that they don’t understand what is being said.
When my daughter Gabbi was younger, I would ask her a question such as "Gabbi, how was your day at school?". When she didn't answer immediately, I would ask her another question like "what did you do?" and then another "what did you learn". So Gabbi is still working on my first question and now I've totally overwhelmed her by asking her three questions in row. Both of us ended up frustrated because there has been no connection made.
While working with our students with Autism at Artistas Training and Employment program, I could visibly see that it took them a little while to process information when asked a question. However, they would give me clues like putting a finger up or nodding their head to say I understand and I’ll be right back with you. Gabbi however, didn't really give me any verbal clues that she was listening to me, but a lightbulb goes off that I need to give her some more time.
Armed with this new information, I approached Gabbi again. "Gabbi, how was your day?”, then wait, wait, wait. She looks up surprised that I am still looking at her and waiting for an answer. I then asked her "Do you want me to repeat the question or do you need a little more time?" She says "a little more time". So I wait some more and finally after what seems like an eternity, she says "fine". What a victory!!
If you are a parent or a teacher, try giving your child or student a little more time. Even if you need to pose a question and then get back to them in a little while, let them know that you are interested in what they have to say. They will feel heard and acknowledged and over time, their responses may also get quicker as they gain confidence. If not, maybe they are trying to teach us to slow down J!