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Auditory Learning: I cannot learn by listening

Asperger’s Syndrome and Auditory Learning Difficulties

auditory learning overload autism
I am NOT an auditory learner! I cannot learn by listening; I do not process the information that way. Yesterday when I attempted to complete week one’s module in my Information Technology (IT) class I was met with panic, overload, and the beginning of a complete meltdown that lasted most of the day. 

First, I thought I would take an IT class this semester, not because I am interested in the course, but because it is required. I wanted to take a non-writing intensive course this semester. I have many articles to finish editing and query letters to send, and I want to spend this month working on getting my book finished and published on my blog for all of you to read. 

With the busy holiday season approaching, and several writing projects being neglected, I thought my writing time would be better spent finishing these projects. Taking a non-writing class should be a cinch! Not so. 

The problem I found yesterday was that for module one a huge part of the course work required me to listen to sound bytes! There is an option to keep a transcript running along with the sound, which I thought would help me. I would be able to read while listening. It made it worse. About a minute into the first sound byte my head began throbbing. 

Auditory Processing Issues Causing Overload While Learning

I cannot learn by listening; my auditory processing issues won’t allow it. I get completely overwhelmed in a very short period of time. The children were running around, the TV was blaring in the other room, and Mom (me) was screaming for everyone and everything to be quiet. Maybe if I can get some quiet I can absorb this information. That didn’t work either.
To make matters worse, the scrolling words on the screen (the ones I thought would help) made my head spin. I cannot read and listen to the TV, music, people talking, or any kind of background noise. What made me think that I would be able to read the words scrolling across the screen with a voice speaking in the background? 

Then after each sound byte (and there were quite a few of them to get through) was a quiz. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I had not retained ANYTHING from those lessons. I did not pass the quizzes, and my panic set in. 

Panic and the Perfectionist

The perfectionist in me has not allowed myself to get anything but A’s. Period. Nothing but an A will do, and if I can’t get one I have to drop the class. 

In fact, more than 20 years ago when I first attended college I actually dropped out partly because I could not maintain A’s in every single subject all the time. As an adult I thought that compulsion would be lessened. It has not. 

I locked myself in my bedroom with the textbook (earplugs in) and tried to drown out the world. Part of the week’s module included reading three chapters in the textbook and taking a module test on that information. Surely this part will not be a problem. I can learn anything by reading. 

I can learn anything, anything I am interested in! And the keyword here is… INTERESTED. I have come to the conclusion that I do not give a rat’s ass about IT. It is boring, my eyes are glazing over, and I am not retaining much of anything at all. I officially hate it! 

Despite my hate for the material, I did manage to score a 92 on the module one quiz (based on the book reading). 

I intended to drop that class yesterday, which was the last day to drop it without penalty, but did not. My guilt stopped me, mostly because I already paid $220.00 for the books, which are not returnable because they are opened and contained an IT lab code. I didn’t want to waste our family’s money so I kept the course–seven more weeks to go. I am not happy. 

My concern is the complete panic and overload this course has put me in. My auditory sensitivities are being assaulted, and the material is so dry and boring that I want to vomit. The sound bytes are slow and monotone and I want to bang my head on the keyboard. 

Terrible Short-Term Memory / Excellent Long-Term Memory

The quizzes immediately following the dictated material also highlight my deficits—difficulty with short-term memory. I need time to process material to learn it. I am not learning anything this way. 

I have an incredible long-term memory, and a capacity to learn anything, or memorize an enormous amount of useless information. But, I have to process that information to retain it. Playing a sound file, and then asking me technical computer questions about the material I just heard is a nightmare. 

Difficulties Do Not Disappear Because We Are Grown

I naively thought that because I am a full-grown adult now, that these learning issues would be different. I thought that because I am an adult I can will myself to learn things that I am not interested in. I thought that I could listen to instruction and retain information–all because I am not a child. 

I was wrong–again. Apparently, these issues really are a part of my neurology, and now I need to find a way to work around them. 

More importantly though, I need to realize that my Aspie teen is going through the same things, and I need to find better ways for him to learn as well. If I, as an adult cannot learn things I am not interested in, or in a way that someone else says I must learn it, then how can I reasonably expect an adolescent to do it. 

I know that we all have to learn things we don’t care about, and we all have to do things that we don’t like doing.  So the question here is: how do we (Aspie’s) learn these things that are required of us? And how can we help our children do the same?

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.