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