Autistic Confessions – I Can’t Follow (Spoken) Directions

I can’t follow verbal instructions – unless you give me each item one step at a time.

Spoken words are often misheard due to sensory issues so it is easy for me to misunderstand verbal directions.

If you start to give me a list of things to do and I can’t find a notepad I may start to panic.

If we are out in public and you tell me I need to remember to do something later – it probably won’t happen.

My working memory is not great and I have to make checklists and keep a calendar to stay organized.

If I am trying to hold information in my brain (by saying the thing over and over again in my head) and someone interrupts me mid task the information is lost forever – even if it’s something simple like a first and last name.

Typed or written instructions are best for me, this allows me time to translate the task into my own way of thinking – which is primarily visual.

Also, because I tend to take things very literally, this allows me time to question if my assumptions about the instructions make since – preventing embarrassing mistakes.

Please don’t tell me what you need me to do – unless you know I’m ready to write things down. I hate letting people down but I REALLY can’t follow spoken directions




35 thoughts on “Autistic Confessions – I Can’t Follow (Spoken) Directions”

  1. Many thanks for sharing. This is food for thought. When teaching yoga to children on Autism Spectrum, I have relied on supplementing verbal instruction with demonstration. I need to think about other visual aids.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. OMG, yes. This is a thing I sometimes struggle with both in my efforts at adulting and as a dancer—most of the instructors and choreographers I work with give us the choreography both verbally and visually, so mostly I just shut off my ears, so to speak, and use my eyes, because my ability to remember visual input is fairly good.

    My verbal working memory, on the other hand, is pathetic. One or two of my instructors rely more on verbal instructions, which is always pretty much impossible for me.

    The literalism part also gets me in trouble. My husband’s favorite story is about the time he asked me to wash his jeans, with the predictable result that I washed them.

    Of course, I didn’t dry them! (I have now added that subroutine to the “wash” process, heh). Um. Oops?

    Liked by 4 people

  3. You’re not alone in this at all. I have 7 Journal size notebooks that have different colored tabs to separate the subjects and a Dictionary next to me. My notebooks are not organized even though they look like it. lol I need things written down. It would really help if it was written down AND someone physically showed me. But that can’t happen most of the time so I have to figure it out. Sometimes something that should only take 30 minutes takes me 4 hours. I get frustrated. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I can definitely relate to what you’ve said here about verbal directions. I’m not autistic but I do have ADD, which I think is on the spectrum.

    Whenever I go grocery shopping, if I need to buy more than 3 things, I need to write them down. I have a very hard time understanding speech when there’s music or noise in the background.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t follow spoken directions either. I need everything in writing.

    Which reminds me of a quote from The Hobbit:

    “Bilbo did not remember things very well, unless he put them down on his Engagement Tablet…”
    ~ Chapter 1

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I had a scan this week. It was a Dexa scan which involves the body being put in various positions. The man who scanned me gave me several instructions at once which I couldn’t follow as I struggle to follow verbal instructions. I didn’t have a clue what he’d said and I just lay there and he looked at me as if I was stupid. In the end he had to pick my legs up and put them in position. What frustrates me more is people’s reactions to something I have no control over. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My thoughts exactly! Post-its surround me… on my dashboard and under my wheel cover in my car, at my desk and on my computer at work. I write on my hand if there is no paper. My husband texts me things I need to remember, and then I set an alarm on my phone to remember to look at the texts! I set about 3-5 alarms a day for anything I have to do. As a fortune cookie once told me, “In order to make progress, you must learn to adapt to circumstances.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My mother like to”help” when I am packing by asking if I have things. If you ask me if I have underwear while I am looking for a brush and holding socks, I will now look for underwear. Its also now very possible I sat down the socks, and dont have any. I definitely have forgotten my brush. Its really hard to explain to someone verbal instructions get written over. Either give me a complete list at the beginning or at the end, write it down, but constantly interrupting me is just going to lead to a meltdown and tears

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Manager: “Ok, I need you to take this to the front, slide this in the pipe and give the handle a tug and hurry back here, pronto.”
    Me: (Thinking) Uh, take this to the front, slide a pipe, and tug it… Uh… (speaking) Yeah sure. Where?
    Manager: (Pointing with annoyance) That way! What’s wrong with you?
    Me: (glancing around frantically) Nothin’! I’m on it! (Speedily walking away) Ok, I got this thing and… I’ll see it when I get to it. I slide something and tug on a pipe.

    YEAH, I hear ya. I am not sure if that it your level or worse. Yours sounded worse. I usually have to get there and figure things out on my own because I know if I don’t, I’ll get screamed at and people make sure they do it in a crowd so I am humiliated. Thus, no crowds.

    Here’s a hug for all the crap you deal with that “normal” people refuse to make time for. Thank you for sharing. People need to know they are not alone; autism or not, we go through things. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I took a web design course, and I was unable to understand the instructor for the first two weeks of the course. I finally realized that she was using a mix of technical terms (which were easy for me to follow) interlaced with expressions of her own creation (which completely threw me). I basically translated her own expressions into meaningful technical terms, and then everything fit. The above might seem a little off topic to some people, but I look at it as another way that verbal instructions can become hard to follow.


  11. I feel your pain I to struggle with this and it’s worse if the person is on the phone. I avoid phone calls where possible. Fun story – back when I still worked for Dept of Defence I was being driven somewhere and giving directions. I said to the army guy driving “at the next roundabout drive straight through”. So he did we literally mounted the curb drove right through the middle of the roundabout and out the other side much to my amusement and total shock/horror of the other passenger. When other passenger ask the army guy driving why did you do that question. Army driver said “I was following her directions”. Personally I thought it was funny and he was right I should have given better instruction. Army guy was brilliant at wear house & supply logistics but looking back I realise I was on the spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

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