I'm 17 and I can't figure things out

I don't know what my friends are talking about, and I don't know what my problem is.

Published October 7, 2008 10:06AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

OK, my name is John and I think I lack common sense. Now let's start from the beginning: I always kinda knew there was something wrong with me but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I just didn't know why people treated me the way they did.

I'm 17 now, and I just recently decided to try to figure out what was wrong with me. I've thought about it a lot. To be exact, I've been trying to figure out what's wrong with me for about eight months. Anyway, my problem, from what I understand, is that I just don't ever know what's going on around me. I jump to conclusions about what people are saying or I take what people say to me the wrong way so when I reply to what I think they're talking about then it's obvious that I don't know what's going on. It's like there's an invisible screen in front my eyes that makes me different from other people. Sometimes the screen goes away and I realize everything that's going on -- I realize that I basically live in my own little world and that was a painful fact that I had to face.

Here's some examples of what happens at times. My friend was playing his 360 and I was just watching him play, being quiet as usual when I'm not at my house, and my other friend said, "John, what you doin'?" and my reply was, "Chillin', chillin'." And there were a couple other people there that I didn't know, and when I answered my friend's question I heard another person say something like "but he only" and then she stopped what she was saying, and I didn't think nothin' of it. So we all went upstairs and one girl I know told me that I was quiet when I'm not at my house and I told her, 'Cause I'm a quiet person, and then she said something I didn't hear, so I said, Huh? and then she said, See, he doesn't ever know what's goin' on, and I told her, I do know what's goin' on, and she said, I'm not making fun of you, and I didn't know what she meant but then it hit me. I really didn't know what was goin' on and I realized that I just assumed she was making fun of me and I realized she said, I'm not making fun of you.

Now I'm faced with the decision of does what I say make sense to people or am I just assuming things again? I honestly can't tell the difference. It's weird that I know what's wrong with me and I still can't fix it and I think you're probably thinking the same thing or I could be just assuming things again ... I often hear my friends say things like, "How does he know?" So now at this point I'm thinking I don't have common sense or I'm just so dumb I can't put things together that make what a person is talking about obvious. OK, so what I need to know is how to fix my problem of assuming things and how to get more common sense. This is my only option. Please help.

P.S. My mind also wanders a lot and I can't control it. Also my friend asks me random questions sometimes, simple things like, What are you doin? or, Can you read my mind? or some dumb crap like that and my problem is I don't know if I should know what he's talking about or if I should just know he's just messing with me. Please tell me what you think. And if this letter doesn’t make sense to you please let me know so I can work on fixing my problem. I feel that I almost figured out how to fix my problem but please help.


Dear John,

I fixed up your spelling, but your letter made sense to me. I think with some help you can figure out what is going on.

If your friends can't understand you, or you can't tell what's going on when they are talking, and you want answers and help, since you are 17, I would ask a teacher at your school. I would ask someone at your school if your skills and abilities can be evaluated. Tell them you want an evaluation or an assessment. If you don't know what that is, that's OK. It's basically when somebody spends some time with you and helps you figure out what's going on. Your friends probably have no idea about you. They are living in their own worlds. They could be very different from you and therefore cannot figure you out at all. They are not trained, so how could they? But there are people who are trained to figure out just such things -- the differences between people, how we process information differently, why we feel like sometimes we have no idea what's going on around us. They are paid to do it. They have studied the differences between people so that they can understand just what is going on. If you describe to them what you described to me, they would have some good ideas about what to do.

So that is what I suggest. I don't know exactly what your school offers, but there must be something. Usually there is at least one teacher who you like and can trust. That might be the place to start. If you don't know exactly what to say, or feel uncomfortable, you can just print out this letter and show it to them. Say that the spelling and some of the grammar has been fixed by me but otherwise it's what you wrote. Say that you want to get some assessment, some evaluation, so you know what's going on.

Don't ask your friends. They wouldn't understand. Ask a teacher you trust, perhaps a teacher who works with psychology and philosophy and such things. An adult who is trained and knowledgeable about the subject will understand and will be able to help you figure out what is going on.

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