For years I’ve had trouble communicating. 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.
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 PhD 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.

A. 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.

To read more about language disorders in adults you may want to visit the websites listed below.

Adult Speech-Language -Hearing Association 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.