For years I’ve had trouble communicating with others. My use of language has always been overly literal and causes me to accidentally hurt the feelings of others. I might say something like “that’s irrelevant” meaning that a point a person made is irrelevant without remembering that it has negative emotional connotations attached to it. I have to remind myself to be mindful of how my words come across.
Additionally, I have some trouble receiving information. If someone strings together too many words in a sentence, I frequently have to repeat the sentence to myself 2 or 3 times and sit on every word before the full meaning settles. Even then, I frequently miss the point.
I’m working on a Ph.D in a mathematical discipline and, recently had a professor grilling me as an unexpected oral exam. I couldn’t figure out what it was he wanted from me until nearly two hours after I’d left his office and I thought about what his questions might have meant at length. This happens very frequently and usually during conversations where I don’t have a prepared response to a particular question, I have to sit and think very hard about what was asked.
I’d like to either learn to communicate better or deal with this, but I don’t know where to turn.
My assessment of your situation is that you may have an undiagnosed language disorder. Having a language disorder means the individual has difficulty comprehending written or spoken systems of communication. Characteristics of language disorders include using improper words, misunderstanding the meaning of words, having difficulty expressing ideas, using incorrect grammar patterns, having a limited vocabulary, and difficulty following directions. Individuals with language disorders often have difficulty trying to understand words and their meanings. They also have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to say.
According to Psychology Today, a language disorder is defined as, “a communication disorder in which a person has persistent difficulties in learning and using various forms of language (i.e., spoken, written, sign language). Individuals with language disorder have language abilities that are significantly below those expected for their age, which limits the ability to communicate or effectively participate in many social, academic, or professional environments. Symptoms of language disorder first appear in the early developmental period when children begin to learn and use language. Language learning and use relies on both expressive and receptive skills. Expressive ability refers to the production of verbal or gestural signals, while receptive ability refers to the process of receiving and understanding language. Individuals with language disorder may have impairments in either their receptive or expressive abilities, or both. Overall, people with this condition have deficits in understanding and producing vocabulary, sentence structure, and discourse. Because people with language disorder typically have a limited understanding of vocabulary and grammar, they also have a limited capacity for engaging in conversation.”
To read more about language disorders in adults you may want to visit the websites listed below.
Adult Speech-Language -Hearing Association
About.com Expressive Language Disorders
I would recommend being evaluated by an audiologist or a speech and language pathologist (sometimes called speech therapists). Generally, speech and language therapy are the best treatments for language disorders. Psychotherapy may also be considered if an individual is having difficulty with social interaction. Social skills and speech training may also be helpful. Social skills can be taught by a psychotherapist or a mental health professional that specializes in teaching these skills. Here’s a link to help you find a local speech professional in your community.
I would also suggest visiting your university’s disability services office. They may be able to link you to a speech professional for an evaluation. The primary job of the disability services staff at universities is to assist students who need “reasonable accommodations” in the classroom. For instance, because of a possible disability you may require extra time to take an oral exam. Staff at the disability services office can usually assist with these accommodations.
I hope this information helps to guide you in the right direction. Thanks for writing. I wish you well.