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High-Functioning Autism and Phone Use: Likely Reasons People with Asperger's Aren't Calling You

Updated on August 01, 2016
Someone wondering why his phone isn't ringing
Someone wondering why his phone isn't ringing | Source

Autism is a Communication-Related Disorder; Telephones are Communications Devices.

OK, this is going to sound extremely obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of high-functioning autism, but when people who have Asperger Syndrome don’t communicate with you via the telephone it’s not something you should take personally. You aren’t being snubbed, ignored, or shut out. Autistic people often have a hard time communicating at least some of the time, even if they are high-functioning. That is commonly considered the nature of the condition.

The reason I am writing about this is because I have been accused of being uncaring many times because I do not just pick up the phone and call my friends and family members on any regular basis at all. I’m terrible at initiating a conversation or knowing how to pick up a conversation when someone else says something I don’t know how to respond to.

If you are upset because your loved one with high-functioning autism is not calling you up, I’d like to ask you to read this page, so hopefully you can better understand why. I'd also suggest you get to know a bit more about autism in general because communication difficulties are what define the spectrum of conditions.

DISCLAIMER: Please Read Before Continuing

I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other type of medical professional. I'm only a person who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. This page is written purely from my experiences and from my point of view. It is not intended to replace advice or treatment from a medical professional or mental health care professional.

So How Do I Know Anything About This?

I am a person with high-functioning autism which is sometimes called Asperger's Syndrome. While I obviously can't speak for everyone with spectrum disorders, I can speak for myself (in writing) and I have observed other people with high-functioning autism having the same issues. Since it's hard for me to interact with people, I tend to observe them very, very carefully and closely. I think sometimes that gives me a bit of insight.

This page is a collection of my observations, personal experiences, and a bunch of speculation based, hopefully, on logic.

People with more severe forms of autism have far worse issues and chances are they'll never, ever call you on the phone.

These observations only apply, to the best of my knowledge, to some but not all people with high-functioning autism. Just like everyone else, we are individuals with individual strengths and weaknesses.

So Why Don’t We Call You?

I have no idea what to say. Not right here on this page, but in that telephone conversation you want me to start. Once we get past "Hello, may I speak to So-and-So?" I'm utterly lost if it's a personal conversation. Ask me to return a business call and I'm good to go. Otherwise, I'm lost and I hate being lost.

So How Can You Help? What Will Make it Better?

You can take some responsibility both for dialing the phone in the first place and for keeping the conversation going. You can also make a "date" of it.

A woman who is not enjoying her time on the phone
A woman who is not enjoying her time on the phone | Source

So What's so Different About a Personal Conversation?

For me, a business call usually has clear goals and expectations. If I need to call a client to clarify when an item will be delivered or what it will include, I can have that information on hand and I'll probably have the answers ready for any other logical questions he might ask, too. He's not going to hint or ask me odd questions pertaining to emotions or other intangibles. It's the same with calls related to classes, research, appointments, or anything else with a straightforward purpose.

When you just want me to call and talk I have no idea what you want me to talk about, what your expectations are, or how I can best fulfill them. I don't know what you might ask me or how I would know what to respond when you ask a question I have no answers for. I've been bit in the butt by negative consequences too many times when I've just said what I'm thinking so I sure don't do that anymore!

So I'll eventually just say something into the silence on the line that makes little sense to you or has nothing to do with anything you want to discuss. It will probably have something to do with one of my hobbies, my job, or some other obsession of mine. You will then likely try to figure out what the heck I meant and why I said it and I'll be horribly embarrassed while you do. Otherwise, I might just start talking about something I'm interested in as if speaking before an audience, having no idea what you want to talk about. I'll probably eventually notice your silence and a lack of actual words in the replies you do make and stop talking when I realize you aren't interested. That will make me feel physically ill and embarrassed that I was talking and talking and nothing I had to say meant anything to you. I'll feel like a rude idiot.

Because personal conversations on the phone tend to be a whirl of confusion and on-the-spot anxiety, I've developed quite a bit of anxiety about even the idea of a personal phone conversation.

So Why Should You Have to Make the Call and Not the Autistic Person?

I have to psych myself up to make a call, perhaps for several days, maybe even longer. I even create a little set of notes to help me out. By the time I'm dialing the phone my heartbeat is usually racing and I feel sick to my stomach. Since you are so sure it would be easy for me to pick up the phone and call you, think about why you haven't just picked up the phone and called me. Now add my anxiety about not knowing what to say or what you expect and perhaps you can see it isn't so easy after all.

So instead of sitting at home and getting mad at me for not calling you, why not pick up your own phone and dial? If it's hard for you to do that, I hope maybe you'll suddenly feel less angry with me.

Since calling is likely to be much, much easier for you than it is for your autistic friend or family member, why not make the effort if you want to speak with him or her?

I spend a lot of time staring these buttons down.
I spend a lot of time staring these buttons down. | Source

So Why Should You Have to Guide or Contribute to the Conversation Instead of Having the Aspie do it All?

As much as people criticize the way I talk on the phone in personal conversations you'd think they were doing better themselves. But my experience with phone conversations usually involves me being required to do a whole lot of talking or a whole lot of listening to long silences. So have something in mind to talk about and start the darned conversation, already!

Think of something to say in response to the things I say. I really can't promise to keep you entertained or even just not bewildered by what I say so I don't expect you to do that for me, either.

I think most people with high-functioning autism would appreciate it if you put some thought and care into the conversations you have with them.

What Do I Mean by Setting a "Date" for Making a Call?

I mean exactly that. Drop me a line via email or text saying when you are going to call or when you would like me to call.

Once phone conversations stop being uncomfortable, routine-breaking, embarrassing things and they start to be enjoyable you may just find your own phone ringing.

I Would Really Rather Email You.

Maybe you can overcome your fear and discomfort regarding the keyboard better than I can overcome my fear and discomfort regarding the phone?

Please Learn More About Aspergers

If you were searching for an answer as to why someone with AS isn't more communicative with you it may be extremely helpful for you to read more about the condition. Communication problems are classic symptoms of almost all autism spectrum disorders. Wikipedia is a good place to start. While I understand many people do not trust Wikipedia, the article linked below is backed up with dozens of excellent references which you may choose to read instead of the overview provided on Wikipedia.


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    • profile image

      Mike 4 weeks ago

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am 49 and just realizing I'm an 'aspie'. It's a little overwhelming yet satisfying that practically every challenge I face in life seems to connect to Asperger's.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I'd suggest you reread this page first, this time with a realization of the fact that talking on the phone is actually, literally, vomit-inducing stressful to some autistic people while doing so.

      Why is it so important to you to communicate in a way that makes the other person so uncomfortable? What need are you fulfilling by deciding to interpret their discomfort as rejection? Pretend it's a person who uses a wheelchair due to pain whose habit of not getting and jumping around hurts your feelings and you'll see how it looks from here. Being unable to accept the symptoms of someone else's biological problem and being unwilling to change your own behavior in any way to help them avoid suffering are really problems with you, not them.

      Is it really something you should take personally that an autistic person you love cuts phone conversations short when they become too emotionally upsetting to continue?

      You said, "I think knowing you have this condition is helpful. How do I proceed with someone who has so many of these tendencies but is not duagnosed[sic]?" The answer is that you proceed exactly how you would proceed with someone you respect enough to allow them to make their own healthcare choices. First ask yourself if you are acting in their best interests, rather than merely your own. If you would only bring it up because something they do or don't do makes you uncomfortable, why not just discuss that particular issue, instead? You can discuss things without using a phone. Why not bend a little and use a keyboard to communicate?

    • profile image

      Treespiritdances 2 months ago


      I really get all that you are saying but from our point of view it is as if you have no interest in us.

      After some years always phoning and always being the one that is cut off with a goodbye then, it is a life full of rejection. After a while we cant take it any more.

      I think knowing you have this condition is helpful. How do I proceed with someone who has so many of these tendencies but is not duagnosed?

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 3 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      As to what I give, it is this: I give my love, devotion, and service to those I love and I love anyone who accepts me. I care for those I love as best I can. I've put a short, partial list in bullet format below if you are not able to understand what is meant by caring.

      * Over the years, I've taken over twenty homeless or about to become homeless people into my home and helped them get back on their feet or into the proper care facilities in the case of the two with schizophrenia.

      * I've taught about a dozen people to read better through literacy programs.

      * I've volunteered in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

      * I've volunteered in skill programs, teaching floral design, home repair, and furniture refinishing to underprivileged people.

      * I've cared for pets for friends who no longer could and on a few occasions, for people I didn't really know, just because they needed it.

      * I have cared for six friends and relatives in their final days, feeding them, giving them their medicines, changing their diapers, bathing them, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, massaging their feet, putting bites of food into their mouths, burning candles they liked, playing them music, reminding them they're loved, and so many other things so many normal people I know don't do for their loved ones. One of them was someone I met and came to love because I started caring for his cat. Added together, caring for dying people after they were bedridden for no monetary reward has taken up over three years of my life. I also cared for several of them before they were bedridden. Isn't that giving?

      * I cook favorite meals for my loved ones.

      * I clean my loved ones homes.

      * I create artwork and crafts for other people, with their likes and dislikes firmly in mind. For instance, when my sister-by-choice wanted a few thousand dollars of decorations for her beach wedding that she could not afford, I made them for her instead. When I saw her eyeing an expensive necklace she wanted, I made one she said was even prettier for her.

      And, for the record, we get taught to communicate, but many normal people do not get taught to do their part and react like they would to people like themselves asking questions. If I ask, "What have you been doing today?" I don't always get the nice little responses you might get, I tend to get angry reactions because my tone of voice wasn't perfect or my eye contact wasn't just so. And yes, it is that hard to learn the hundreds of things you do by instinct by memorization.

    • profile image

      tessa 3 months ago

      Does it not occur to Aspies to ask questions in the form of showing interest in the lives of others? What have you been doing today? How did that go? Were you by yourself? How do you feel about it? Did you see that programme on tv? What did you think? Oh, you bought a car. What colour, model, brand, - have 10 general questions of genuine interest in their lives ready please. If an NT asks you a question, answer it and finish with a question. Often "and you" will do or ask a similar one back. We all had to learn "communication", only few have this natural talent!! So please Aspies, you want us NT's to learn about YOU, how about you learn about US as well? No, we are not asking you to change who you are, just to learn new behaviours, like we all had to learn. Is it really so hard?? We NT are always always expected to take YOU into consideration - how about the other way around sometimes? We feel ignored, passed by, neglected, no interest in me as a person from yous. You expect us to give give give, especially understanding. What do yous give??? Think about this please. Thank you

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 10 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Informative and so much I have learned from this topic.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 11 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting read. Well done.

    • profile image

      Melissa 12 months ago

      I am also a high-functioning Aspie with this problem. I see many times people like myself using their condition as a crutch to say they can't do something and that only perpetuates and reinforces the problem. Having Aspergers makes things difficult, but not impossible. We are not incapable of learning to fake it and forcing ourselves to just deal with the uncomfortableness of social interaction. I apply techniques to make myself numb to activities that are difficult for me, the activities are still difficult, but the feelings of frustration/confusion/anxiety are abated so much that I essentially feel nothing, and that makes the activity easier.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 13 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Unfortunately, many people still expect phone calls and still get upset if they don't get enough calls of the right type from a person.

      I think it is very individualized, but that many people with high-functioning autism have difficulties with personal phone calls due to the nature of such calls. It's hard enough to tell what people are implying, hinting at, or trying to say non-verbally when you can see them.

      Very confident people with high self-esteem probably have no problems with personal phone calls whether they also have autism or not. People who had very good early experiences with personal phone use and no disastrous experiences with personal phone use probably also tend not to have problems with it.

    • Michaela Osiecki profile image

      Michaela 13 months ago from USA

      I don't have Autism, but my social anxiety makes it really hard for me to make phone calls and indeed, I often have to work myself up for several hours/days to do it.

      Luckily, personal phone calls are becoming a thing of past and texting/email seems to be the preferred way for lots of people.

      My partner has Asperger's and ironically enough, he has an easier time making phone calls than I do, so I guess it might be different for everyone.

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