I don't process things quickly compared to other people. Why?
April 23, 2014 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I've never been able to learn new things or process instructions as quickly as most other people. I also have terrible coordination and motor skills. Although I used to be very self-conscious about this - and sometimes still am - I've come to more or less accept this aspect of myself, and am at peace with the fact that I'll never be able to think on-the-fly as quickly as some of my friends. I am, however, intrigued as to why I have such a difficult time wrapping my head around things that most other people I am around seem to grasp with ease. I have been diagnosed with inattentive ADD, and am wondering what else could be the reason behind my processing difficulties as I would like to do some research. Examples and details inside.

I think that my main problems concern learning through visual and verbal instructions. I never got too much out of lectures. I could watch a video or listen to someone explain how to do something ten times and I still might not be able to do it myself. Reading usually does the trick, but I learn best by doing something on my own correctly (I often do things incorrectly many times until it 'clicks').

If I have time, I can usually come up with an answer that is on par with or better than what most other people might come up with. But on-the-spot thinking eludes me, and I often freeze up and panic because I can't figure out something that is apparently obvious to everyone else in the room. After I've tried something new and I am still not doing it right while others have figured it out, I get into my head and start thinking "why am I not getting this" which of course just makes things worse. For this reason, team sports never went too well for me; basketball, for example, is just too much for me to process all at once. If a task is new, even if it`s simple, I often have to break it down and learn each motion piece-by-piece whereas my friends are able to process it at first or second glance as a whole. Driving is also difficult for me, particularly when dealing with traffic stops and intersections.

My brother has been diagnosed with Aspergers, and both my father and I have ADD. I wonder how much my ADD has to do with my issues, although I am certainly trying to concentrate when I am attempting to learn something. I've also read that it might have something to do with my working and spatial memory. Besides the ADD, I've never been diagnosed with a learning disability, but I suspect I have one. However, I have a high IQ and can cram for a test (plus finish it quickly and ace it) better than anyone I know, which confuses the heck out of me considering the fact that I have such a hard time learning new things in other situations.

I'm not trying to beat myself up; on the contrary, I've for the most part come to appreciate my brain's uniqueness. But I can't be the only one out there with these kinds of learning disabilities. I'm hoping to hear from both people who might have a greater grasp on the inner workings of the brain than I do, as well as kindred spirits who have struggled with something similar to what I am describing. I'd love to learn more about what I could possibly have, as I would like to do some research. Could the ADD explain this? Might it be something else? Even a suggestion on what kind of specialist to see to get myself tested for whatever I might have would be appreciated. I don't need to hear anything on how to improve my deficiencies, as I've already tried; it seems as if my brain thinks that it's just peachy the way it is.

Thanks. If any more information might be necessary, just let me know.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
It would be helpful to know if you have ever had a psycho-educational assessment. It might help you screen for learning disabilities, including processing speed. It will also tell you your strengths and weaknesses. For this, you go to an educational psychologist. Your extended medical benefits may cover part of it.

Do you have anxiety? That can also cause temporary drops in processing speed.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:21 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Processing speed is directly assessed for in the subtests of the WAIS and the Woodcock-Johnson, which are two of the standard tests used to assess IQ. If you were actually IQ tested (i.e., not online), and you had a high IQ, it's unlikely that your processing speed was SUPER low, as it would have pulled your overall score down. Whatever entity did the test will information on your processing speed and other domains of ability. If you haven't been tested for real, you can ask your doctor about getting a neuropsych assessment, which will parse out the pieces of your ability that might explain what's going on. It's possible you have issues with working memory and/or processing speed, but these are different things (although correlated and connected in some ways). You may also want to discuss with the person doing the assessment how issues of anxiety might be impeding your performance. Honestly, though, people just vary in their ability on these things, and having a relatively low processing speed does not necessarily suggest that you have a disorder or even a deficit.

On preview: educational psychologists are not the only ones who do neuropsych assessments. Ask your doctor for a referral.
posted by quiet coyote at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that my main problems concern learning through visual and verbal instructions. I never got too much out of lectures. I could watch a video or listen to someone explain how to do something ten times and I still might not be able to do it myself. Reading usually does the trick, but I learn best by doing something on my own correctly (I often do things incorrectly many times until it 'clicks').

Oh god, my whole life. You've described it. I especially hate driving.

I too am very good at cramming; good at thinking on a high, abstract level about things I'm passionate about; good at standardized tests; good at a lot of things required in an academic environment (besides learning from lectures, can't at all) but struggle in the real world. Since people on Metafilter have been talking about the novel Stoner (John Williams) lately, I've considered the notion that academia is a cloister for people like us, but things have changed-- plus, I don't know if I have the complete set of skills that will allow me to succeed as a lecturer or academic! I'm going to keep a close eye on this thread.

In the past I thought my inability to learn on my feet was perhaps related to social anxiety (distracting me from the task at hand), but recently I've been less sure about this theory-- do you have social anxiety by any chance? I am sort of an awkward person, have difficulty making friends with girls who I haven't known since childhood (I know this is like an anti-feminist stereotype, but it seems like I lack some kind of ability to connect with them, maybe because I am hyperconscious about it and really want to!), yadda yadda. My amateur theory is some combination of ADD-ishness and a difficulty with socializing like Asperger's.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have been diagnosed with inattentive ADD and have the same issue with processing heard information (someone telling me something verbally) versus written info (reading a description myself). I also find it harder to communicate verbally than it is for me to write it out. Sometimes it feels like I read and write even faster than I think, whereas it takes extra time for me to verbalize or hear something I know is being spoken...if that makes sense. (I often jump the gun and say "what? . . . oh wait, got it" when listening to direction, for example. Bad habit.)

I've always thought of it as a combination of learning style and ADD.
posted by sallybrown at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh, also, sometimes just the perfect amount of caffeine will make me feel almost "normal." Contributing to the brain chemistry/ADD theory.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:33 PM on April 23, 2014

I have this problem too and I think it's because I process stuff in a very non verbal way. My brain gets a bunch of info, converts it to whatever, shuffles it off somewhere idk and then at an indeterminate time in the future delivers the answer back and converts it into English so I can communicate it. Often this happens at the smae speed other people seem to think but other times it'll be about a year later and I'll go ooohhhh... that's what they were asking! It's just super hard for me to convert random human speech into the kind of discreet facts I need to work on something. I constantly tell people some variation on "start over, you lost me" or "can you send me that in an eemail and I'll look at it?"

If I don't have to communicate my answers to others then I am super fast at solving problems, I have been the first person to finish every exam I've ever taken. But there's a total disconnect between the processing part and the customer facing part. I would 100 times rather just fix something alone than try to reason it out with another person. If I have to collaborate there better be a whiteboard because we're going to need pictures.

I am also generally unable to explain my thought process without a lot of thought and rewording. Words have meanings and I'm not so hot with that.
posted by fshgrl at 5:36 PM on April 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

My wife these issues adhd included. It wasn't until she saw neuro psychologist and went through hours and hours of testing that they figured out her specific strengths and deficits. She has amazing verbal scores like she is better than 90 percent of the population but she scores worse than almost 85 percent of the population in areas involving executive functioning skills (i don't have the test in front of me and i think i'm using the wrong terminology for the second scoring...sorry) The psychologist also spent time teaching adaptations to help her get more with what she had.
She also is really good at remembering how to solve situation she's run into before but something different really perplexes her. So on parts of the test that are unique she does poorly but things like math she's very good at.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:38 PM on April 23, 2014

However, I have a high IQ and can cram for a test (plus finish it quickly and ace it) better than anyone I know

A good friend of mine who has it, and is just like this, tells me that this is because inattentive ADD sometimes comes with a superpower called hyperfocus.
posted by clavicle at 5:52 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't know many of the answers to your questions; I just wanted to chime in and say that you have described me to a t, both my strengths and weaknesses. The driving, the fine motor control, the freezing up when it comes to learning things on the fly, especially by listening, the kick-ass testing skills...yeah. It's actually weird reading it all laid out like that, like unexpectedly catching sight of yourself in a mirror.

I too have been diagnosed with ADD; I also have no sensation of being unable to concentrate when it comes to learning new skills, only a sense of disorientation and the inability to grasp what's coming at me. It's been a while since I've come face to face with this, since I've been settled into a grad program that plays to my strengths for quite a while. But recently, I started a cardio kickboxing class, and since I'd also recently started a mindfulness class, I paid particularly close attention to what was going on. Here is what I noticed, I'll be curious to hear if any of it resonates with you.

*If the instructor gave a series of three moves, say, "kick left, kick right, punch right" I couldn't keep track the instructions. Obviously, I can keep three things in my working memory. However, what I couldn't do was think about what each instruction meant, do it, and then recall the next one, in time to keep up with the class. So while everyone else was doing "kick left, kick right, punch right" I would be thinking {okay, it's a kick}{remember how to do a kick}do the kick left{pause, reset}{Okay, next is kick right}... During those {pause, resets}I could feel an almost painful shifting of the brain-gears, as I moved from {thinking about crosses} to {thinking about kicks}. As soon as I tried to speed up to keep pace with the rest of the class, my brain just went *blamklabooie* and all the moves were completely jumbled together and I was doing them wrong and out of order.

*The music, and keeping a rhythm, made it much, much harder. I like to dance, but I hate doing dances (waltzes, etc.) because I can't think about the steps and keep to the rhythm at the same time. If I'm thinking about the step, I can't pay attention to the music, and vice versa. Makes sense, because those are two different sources of information I had to switch between.

*I couldn't learn from watching the instructor if he was facing me AT ALL. I may as well not have been able to see him, because there was this extra step I couldn't do, which involved figuring how his lefts and rights corresponded to mine. I couldn't just do it, I had to actively think about it so hard that I forgot everything else. I took a ballet class once and it was like a joke; not only could I not copy the instructor, I couldn't even tell that what I was doing was different from what she was doing, unless she pointed it out.

So, if you think about it in terms of attention, it wasn't that I had trouble paying attention overall; it's that on a much more granular level I had trouble rapidly shifting my attention from one set of instructions to the other, and between different kinds of information. It was hard for me to translate, for example, verbal instructions into what I was physically doing with my body, or visual information about the instructor was doing with his body into instructions about what I should do. A image that came to my head when I was writing this was of my attention a kind of sticky drawer. There's a kind of jamming-up that happens every time I try and shift material from one place to another, and under pressure, the material stacks up and up until nothing is taken in.

What is true, though, is that after a while at kickboxing, this has gotten notably better, and it's all about getting to the point where I can just push {kickjabcross} into a single action without really having to differentiate them and think about them. But, at the same time, parts of it are still tough - today, we had to do a series of punches that went left, left, right, in this alternating pattern, and I honestly would rather have done a dozen pushups than keep track of which direction I was supposed to be punching at any given time.

I don't know if this helped at all, but I'm really grateful to you for asking this question - both for the opportunity to think all this through and hearing all the other answers. If you ever have more thoughts on it, definitely keep me posted! I'm so curious about it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2014 [13 favorites]

I do have social anxiety, and I'm sure that it factors into my problem. The performance anxiety usually kicks in later though, after I've spent some time trying to figure out whatever I am trying to learn and then realizing that it's not computing.

Sallybrown - I feel the exact same way you do, in that I definitely read and write faster than I can think. I also have the same issue with listening that you talked about at the end.
posted by CottonCandyCapers at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The comprehensive testing is worth doing - it should be paced over several days and be a bunch of written and spoken/listening tests with activities, not a one-hour checkbox type thing. My kid with dyslexia had additional testing done and the report we got ran to 8 pages of detail to figure out what services he needed and specific scores for skills compared to his age cohort/general population.

You might enjoy reading some of Temple Gradin's books on how she sees the world, and Oliver Sacks. The idea that there's one normal brain is falling away and it's not even about autism or ADD. People really do think the world very differently.

I think largely in concepts and words, and spatially - I'll construct an idea and run it as a space to explore or as a series of short movie clips of outcomes, in a big logic-tree. I've experienced transient strokes recently (no damage yay!), and during them how my brain worked changed because my brain was rerouting around the temporary damage. I thought in big solid concepts that slid into each other, or just knew how to do things without being able to break them down into steps or needing to. Listening to instructions was a struggle but a written instruction worked. It was really fascinating to experience. People who have experimented with drugs also have interesting experiences about their brains changing how they process information.

Your brain sounds fascinating. I wish more people would write about how they think.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mr MMDP is very similar in the problems he has experienced with processing instructions and retaining information; he is also somewhat uncoordinated at times. Due to some issues that arose at work, he was referred via the organisation's health and safety section for an assessment; he was tested and found to have dyspraxia. Your second paragraph in particular sounds very much like his experiences.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:59 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone with ADD, sure sounds like ADD to me. If you're not focused, you're not going to grok things as quickly.

Have you ever tried medication? Perhaps get a trial prescription for Adderall and see how it affects your processing speed and learning ability?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2014

Yes, you want a neuropsych(ological) evaluation. Different types of professionals offer them, so I'd start by talking to your insurance company about which providers are covered on your plan.
posted by jaguar at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2014

I can either process what's going on, or I can react to it (usually by recognizing non-verbal/visual** or textual cues). Can't do both; it's like they're unconnected systems. I have a formal ADD-inattentive diagnosis, though I recognize there are likely overlaps with anxiety, social anxiety, and auditory processing issues. If you are WORRYING worrying about it, perfectionism is also an option. Yay?

**Not to say that I like videos for learning. I hate them. It's more an ambient, visual recall-acuity that makes it hard to understand people when they talk because there is so much more information available than what could be gathered from the meaning of the words they're speaking.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:35 PM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I am super-good at cramming and multiple choice tests.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:40 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for posting this - I could have written literally everything you did (right down to the immediate family members with ADD and Aspergers, although slightly different family members). I do love several team sports, but they took me a VERY long time to learn, and I don't drive because it's insanely stressful and also I'm convinced I'll space out and absentmindedly kill someone.

I never connected the not-stupid-but-really-slow-processing-speed thing to the ADD before now. I actually thought it was weird that I couldn't switch mental gears easily since I've always been told that ADD means creative, bouncing all over the place thinking. Really interesting (and incredibly relieving) to see from the responses in this thread that it's not an unusual thing, although it's not one of the ADD symptoms that's normally talked about.

The description here is perfect. It's actually why I eventually stopped taking kung fu. I just can't get the hang of the choreographed movements fast enough to keep up with the class - it got much better with practice but by the time I work them out, we've usually moved on to a new movement, and the cycle starts at the freaking beginning again. But I can play sports pretty well, now that I've learned them - I'm not incompetent, just really, really slow to learn each new movement.

I am hoping against hope that someone's discovered tricks to help with this stuff and will share them here, but I don't know if there really is anything other than the standard ADD treatments/strategies.
posted by randomnity at 7:43 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

This sounds a bit like my dad, who is an academic, is a very nervous and not very good driver, likes to write things down in order to absorb/remember them, cannot grasp technology such as desktop computing tasks well, in many situations comes across as somewhat cognitively slow, and is socially awkward in some ways. I don't think of him as having ADD, rather I just think this is the way his brain is wired and like everyone else he has strengths and weaknesses in terms of adaption to the demands of life. Some of his strengths are that he can think about things deeply and he often has non-mainstream perspectives. I imagine for you it's the same, you have some things that you feel are weaknesses and some things that you feel are strengths. I don't think you should think of yourself as defective in some way, rather you may just be atypical in some way.
posted by Dansaman at 11:53 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like this was me: I could never do any of the inline skate tricks my friends easily could, sports were hell, it took me til mid 20s to realise what the copying movements thing in martial arts was even supposed to be good for. Not blessed with good judgement in my first job I had to drive all day and do complicated procedures together with people who were rookies themselves. What saved my ass was I was at last put together with this guy everybody else hated for being a stickler and he was actually the first person who knew the rules and didn't get defensive about explaining them. What I'm saying is most people are improvising and bad at explaining so it's not all you.

I haven't met any therapists able to give a specific named condition. Please update if you find out anything while the thread is still open? I wonder if mirror neurons are involved which are hypothesised to help with imitation and understanding the actions of others. Anecdotally, moving countries got me used asking people to slow down and repeat themselves. Troubleshooting stuff for a living has burned that sequential process thing into my brain. To learn instruments was even better, sheet music is like the pinnacle of step by step instructions. Music meant going to a lot of gigs and dancing is great practice for stuff like e.g. a leg takes a certain time to move if you want a foot touching the ground on that beat. I'm not gonna make a habit of recommending music in every askme but where movement and timing is involved it works really great!
posted by yoHighness at 3:18 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the responses, everyone. Seems like my issues are more prevalent than I had expected. Feel free to MeMail me or update this thread if you happen to chance upon a possible diagnosis behind our symptoms.

Pretentious illiterate - You must be my long-lost twin; I'll have to have a talk with my parents about any family secrets they might be hiding from me. Want me to learn an activity requiring body coordination when the instructor is facing me? I daresay you'd have better luck teaching a cat how to bark.
posted by CottonCandyCapers at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Weak central coherence" and "enhanced perceptual functioning" might be worth googling. This article talks about how a detail-focused cognitive style is part of the autism spectrum phenotype but can exist independently of deficits in social cognition. Memail me if you're interested in reading it but don't have access.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:51 PM on June 11, 2014

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