Its unusual for me to be back here with another blog so quickly after my last however I feel compelled to write about another topic which I am asked about constantly and work to combat in my own life daily and that challenge is concentration – on work, school and just about every other situation you can imagine! I thought I would write a few words about the challenges Aspergers Syndrome poses for myself and people with AS where concentration is required. I want to do this (a) to assure people out there that they are not alone in this difficulty and (b) I would be equally interested to hear people’s own experiences of this and ideas as to how they go about addressing it.
I think my own difficulties with concentration arise from two key areas: over-stimulation and hyperactivity, both characteristics of Aspergers Syndrome and its related conditions.
Over-stimulation has always posed difficulties for me and this is something I have found to be particularly profound of late. I found over-stimulation to cause me distractions on two fronts. The first being the actual over-activity of my muscles when I am excited or stressed completely distracts me and I often find myself, almost involuntarily, wandering around or running in response to this particular area. The other area is distractions themselves, so for example when I sit down to work I find myself very easily taken in by activity around me, be it noise or things to fidget with or even my own thoughts, thus I often find myself dazed or in daydream land when I am trying to apply myself to a task, this seems especially profound when I am under pressure or am having difficulty doing something, as I seem to be more open to distractions in these circumstances.
I think I only realised the true impact of over-stimulation on my life when I began to research the topic sometime ago and then I was able to identify why I do find it so difficult to concentrate even when I manage to sit in my seat and do some work. However I also have come to realise that the implications of over-stimulation stretched far beyond having an impact on my academic studies or community work but rather had an adverse effect on my ability to work in a typical teenage part-time job and also my listening skills as a whole.
For me, I found working in both a bar and a restaurant near impossible and it was something that used to really upset me as I knew I was giving the job by best effort and was working really hard and yet I always would find myself confused and lost in my work. This has a lot to do with my challenge of over-stimulation as I would find the constant noise, huge surroundings and open spaces (there was outdoor seating areas) totally daunting and would often find myself feeling out of place and unsure how to prioritise the many instructions and tasks that we surrounding me and marry them with the ongoing duties of any employee.
I also find myself to be a poor listener at times due to this over-stimulation, particularly if I am trying to multitask (and I do think this goes beyond the fact that I am a man!) as I find it hard to process and take in my surroundings or the job I am doing and at the same time follow my thoughts and listen to someone, this is particularly the case if they are giving me sequential instructions or something detailed and more times than not I find myself in the embarrassing position of having to clarify something of what they said later.
The other great issue which challenges my ability to concentrate on tasks or conversation is my hyperactivity. The fact that I am hyper has both pros and cons, often my best ideas come to me when I find myself overcome by the desire to run around or am bursting with energy however it can be difficult to balance this energy when you need a level-head! For example, if I am hyper in class I often find myself unable to concentrate on the task in hand and I have come to accept that working on homework or this very site when I am in that mood is a losing bet and so I try and burn energy through physical exercise or just taking some time out before I sit down and try and apply myself to the job.
All in all, I guess my concentration has good days and bad days and I find the key factor to this is if I can get the right rhythm to my work that I can last for hours and have a high output but often if this pace is broken I then find it hard to recover it. I have definetly improved over time through employing certain techniques for example as I have already mentioned trying to burn my energy out and also limit the number of distractions around me. Another trick I have employed in beating over-stimulation and hyperactivity is rising early in the morning where there are fewer distractions and I am more relaxed and for that reason I often find that from 6am to breakfast can be my most productive time or equally if I stay up very late when the house is in quite mode and my body begins to relax for the day that this is a good time for me to get stuck into some work.
I still feel this is an area I desperately need to improve in and know that this is true for many with AS so I would love to hear your own thoughts and experiences in the forum!