The Phone

I know that it’s something other people with Autism happen to deal with. The Phone. I sit here staring at it every day. It takes me four hours to make a single phone call. Which of course comes after I plan out my calls sometimes four days in advance. The phone… it feels like an enemy despite the fact that my phone isn’t even a smart phone so it lacks the most basic sentience. Not certain if Smart phones are sentient but my carer’s Blackberry says it’s thinking all the time so I will suppose it’s a very stupid smart phone since it rarely gets past the first thought of the day.

I hate my phone. From the phone bill, which if I was willing to risk being out without a cellphone could be less, on to the talking. The talking is the worst part. Why is it people shout into the phone? I know I am quiet and hard to hear but most of the people I know literally yell into the phone. When I had roommates I started asking one of their guests to go to another room since every time she was on the phone she began to yell. The roommates got louder too but this was usually because our phone was a piece of crap landline, and even I had had to yell into it so I wrote that off.

The phone fills me with foreboding. If I could translate that feeling into a story the phone would be the killer in one of my gory little trips down violence lane. The phone did it. Not the man, woman or mutant sewer alligator. It was the act of saying “Hello?” The silence at the other end, a crackle that could be breath and then you are dead, in the dial tone of terror.

This is about how it feels to make a call. I know the phone won’t actually kill me but this supposedly innocuous device creates a whole new level of communications challenge. Even texting can be difficult for me if I am tired or if my hands won’t function. Coordination is never a guarantee. Texting is the best part of a phone however, as I know when it is my time to text.

Sometimes waiting to talk on the phone I pull up a clock, so I can watch the second hand. This helps me to feel less like it has been an eternity since the other spoke when it has been a single breath. I am always angry sounding on the phone, but this is because I am focused on hearing you, understanding you, and frankly, knowing when it’s my time to go.

I often hang up on people too early. I don’t get the phone right, which bothers me. I feel self conscious with the phone. I can’t see you. You always sound hostile to me when I can’t see you. Then the phone brings me bad news. Whenever my student loan people call it’s never what I expect. “We approved you for this deferment but the department of education says your doctor isn’t the right kind of doctor.” Yet, they can’t explain why my doctor is not qualified to sign the paper. They don’t even understand what they are saying so I hit the end button before I yell at them for being stupid. Why would you hire someone who cannot understand and explain what is wrong with the papers? I already took care of this but am I to be a mind reader? Am I to infer that they wanted an MD not an Osteopath? They don’t know the difference and I don’t either. Luckily my doctor’s office does and someone else there can and will sign the papers.

The phone. It’s stalking me now. The only useful thing about the phone for me is the alarm clock. I do have internet on my phone but that is merely a back up in case my coping mechanisms fail then I can wait patiently while I poke at the buttons and read something on wikipedia. It’s about staying calm. In that moment the phone is the worst computer ever.

I suspect the advent of the video phone will eventually occur and I wonder if that will be worse or not. What about those six am calls from idiotic office workers who don’t comprehend that I am sleeping? Will they be more awkward since I don’t wear clothing to bed? I think that’s the entire reason why videophones aren’t what we use anyway. The video phone would level the playing field by making certain EVERYONE feels as awkward as I do on the phone.


  1. Have you seen Amanda Bagg’s video on making a phone call in 70 steps?

    For a person like me with ADD, it’s more like it takes maybe 15 “steps” to make a phone call — i.e., it can be harder than it is for the average non-autistic person but not as hard as it seems to be for many people on the autistic spectrum.

    Many deaf people in the US already use a form of video phone that does not include sound (these are given, subsidized, to deaf people who use sign language as their main form of communication … deaf people can use it to call each other or can talk with non-signing hearing people without video phones through the video relay service which puts a sign language interpreter on their screen. Deaf people who can speak on the phone can use “voice carry over” service by using the sign interpreter to understand the hearing person but speaking into the phone to respond back to the hearing person.

    Yah, sometimes the phone rings when I’m not “decent” which means I have to ignore it. But after the call, if they don’t leave a message, I can check for “missed calls” to find the number of who was trying to call me. So depending on who it was I might try calling back after I’m dressed and not tied up with other things.

    For me as a deaf person, it would be nice if everyone had an integrated video/audio/text chat system. I use a range of different approaches to communication depending on whom I’m communicating with, exactly what needs to be communicated, and on the context and so on … sometimes I sign or read signs, sometimes I talk, occasionally I lipread if I only need to communicate directly with one other person and if they’re not too difficult to lipread, and sometimes I write/type or ask them to write/type. Any system that forces me to use only one mode of communication is inherently limiting for me. With some people I would still need an interpreter to really communicate well with them, but with some people I would understand okay if I could just see *and* hear them (with what hearing I do have) AND have the option to type back and forth when we are otherwise stuck.

    But whether I use video phone or a TTY, some of the time I don’t seem to have problems placing a call but other times I dither and dither and really wrestle with myself to get myself to place the call. And often there’s no clear reason for the difference.

    Disliking (and not really understanding) “small talk” is … not the whole reason but probably doesn’t particularly help either.

  2. Like you, I’ve come to have an aversion to the phone, and I recently found out that it’s because my auditory processing condition makes using the phone exhausting. It uses up way too many spoons. For several months now, I’ve been using the Text Relay Service to call anyone I need to. I have free software called NexTalk on my computer; I type while a relay operator speaks what I’m saying to the person at the other end, and then types what they’re saying back to me. It’s taken a *ton* of stress off my life.

    I know that texting can be difficult for you, but the relay operators seem to be very friendly and helpful and I never feel rushed and anxious as I do when I try to speak on the phone. It’s okay to go slowly if I need to, and the whole process forces the other party to slow down and deal with me properly. If you want any further information, feel free to send me an email. I feel so liberated and empowered having an alternative to voice on the phone. My Deaf vocational rehab counselor got me involved with different kinds of technology created mainly for the Deaf community, and it’s been a great boon to my existence.

  3. I have been thinking about this for days, since I read the email with the comment and I am going to definately email you in private about this. It just sounds better. I get what I need and the auditorally inclined people get what they need. I don’t mind texting, I got a phone that is much more accessible for this purpose but sometimes you just cannot say enough or people don’t accept texting.

    My issue is in part sensory related. I cannot speak on the phone, or at times in person, without closing my eyes. The words make less sense if I am trying to see everything and hear it. This effects watching TV too. I use captions at every opportunity, but since I view most stuff online this isn’t so great. So I usually don’t look at the action or rewind a lot.

    As my cellphone is TTY compatible I may also see about using that for other services too. Just knowing that this technology exists has lightened my phone related stress greatly. Especially since sometimes people actually call me without my expecting it. As if they like the phone or something!

  4. I haven’t but I will track the video down. I dislike video to a point for the same reasons that the phone troubles me but with video I don’t have to make a coherent reply so I still enjoy media. I am a bit embarrassed about the phone thing, I also am wondering if I replied to this message already so if I double dipped just ignore me. I appreciate your sharing the struggles involved for you to make a call. Not only do I enjoy empathy but there are ideas here which I can use for myself to help make this a bit easier. I suspect everyone periodically doesn’t want to call someone though for me, even when I want to call people, it takes a lot.

    I think diversity in communication makes more logical sense. You never know what sort of challenges may arise. Since I dislocate my jaw a lot when speaking the suggestions that were made in other comments and some of what you mention also has me thinking, less pain always is helpful. I am glad you also have access to the newer technology. I can’t stand not being able to communicate as freely as I desire, and I hope you never feel imprisoned by the barriers that are unfairly in your way with these sorts of things.

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