Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Living in a world without sound

It's interesting how the way one is born and raised affects one's sense of normalcy. For me it wasn't until I underwent an official test for giftedness as a teenager that I became aware of a very significant way in which I am different from most other people.

During that test I had to repeat strings of numbers and letters, increasing in length with each successive string. The interesting thing was I failed to correctly repeat the first, shorter strings, but repeated the next, longer strings flawlessly. I remember developing a method on the fly for memorising those sequences. The same pattern repeated itself for other tests, every time the test was auditory, i.e. in spoken form.

Further research showed that this pattern is commonly found by visual learners with an auditory deficit. Or in short, I'm a 100% visual learner, with anything auditory being essentially foreign to me. This suddenly explained a lot to me about many struggles up to that point, both regarding the visual way of learning, and my trouble with following and remembering spoken texts and instructions.

It's interesting to consider that the way that I experience the world around me is not like how most others experience it. The fact that I do not experience sound, but just the visual representation it invokes in me. Yet also the limitation I face in that almost all communication between humans happens in an auditory fashion.

I experience music and random sounds as images, almost as tangible objects which I can look at and touch. They have colours, shapes and textures. Human speech too, only if I wish to interpret its meaning, I have to actively process it further, basically treating it as if it's written text. This takes a considerable amount of focus and energy.

The result of this is that I cannot focus for very long on anything with a strong auditory focus. Films are generally fine, due to the strong visual aspect to them. An audio book - or most meetings - is extremely hard and draining for me if I wish to follow it. The audio books which I have tried had me drifting off after less than a minute. Long meetings often have me feeling exhausted and sick afterwards because of the mental effort it took to pay attention to everything that was being said.

I do not mind being different like this. I just wish that others were more considerate and understanding of this difference. Not everyone can handle spoken words as easily as they can. Not everyone can learn and work the way that they can. In some ways my... condition is akin to being deaf, I guess, though admittedly less dramatic.

Pushing myself to ignore the mental strain of focusing on spoken words does come with a high cost, mostly in the form of headaches, migraines and extreme exhaustion. It's sadly still an ongoing struggle to make this work in daily life, especially as it pertains to my work as a software developer.

With popular strategies such as programming in pairs and frequent meetings (daily stand-up, retrospective meetings, etc.), all of which are auditory, it's not easy to exclude myself from such events. Or even to address the subject, as it doesn't seem like something which the average person seems willing to accept. At least I haven't had much luck with it so far.

Some days I think that it would be nice to be just like everybody else, instead of different in almost every conceivable way from the norm. Then again, thinking exclusively in images also means that I am fully immune to so-called ear worms: bits of music which just keep looping in one's head. That's got to be worth it, I think.


1 comment:

Zeta Syanthis said...

Oh *wow* this sounds familiar. O.o; I've never been tested, but the way you describe your experiences, both with music and meetings, is me to a T.