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Selah R, M.S. LPC
Selah R, M.S. LPC, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 582
Experience:  Licensed Professional Counselor; over 13+ yrs exp working with adults, teens, & families/couples.
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Asperger: How do I explain phone aversion to others?

Resolved Question:

Like many other people with the Asperger neurotype, I don't like speaking on the phone, even to people I care about. I need some advice about how to tell people this. 
  

The benefit of labels and brief 'scientific' explanations: 

I have found that if I can understand why something is the way it is (e.g. "I have a problem in the top right-hand side of my brain") or if I can put a label to something (such as "I struggle to recognise faces -- I have mild prosopagnosia" -- I say this to my students when I ask them to wear name tags), then it's so much easier for everyone.

Telling without explaining is not enough: 
 

I want to ask people to please rather send me text messages whenever possible, but when I do, I still feel bad because I can't explain why -- especially f the other person is also an aspie, and they've forgotten or not internalised my request. 

But if I don't know what a thing is called, it's harder for me. I am afraid of being perceived as fussy or uncaring or something if I just tell people I don't like speaking on the phone. 

I'm part of a circle of aspie friends who see each other every few weeks or so. Some of them have hardly any problems with sound and visual clutter; but because 'sensory overload' and 'sensory problems' are part of my vocabulary, I can explain to them why I don't want to go on an outing to a bowling alley, for example. 

Some of the problems of not being able to explain why: 

 

Three of these aspies are very comfortable with telephone conversations. Two of them can go on chatting for an hour at a time. (I was like that when I was a teenager too.) They often phone, but I usually don't answer. I send a text message later. It also happens that some friends will phone just after I have sent a text message, because they then consider me to be 'available', and they're perplexed when I just don't answer.

The hardest is when there's a new aspie in the group, feeling insecure already, and then I don't take calls. (I'm one of the contact people when others are referred to group or enquire via the Web or Facebook.)

I've told some friends that it's hard for me to speak on the phone, but they're miffed, because when I do actually take a call sometimes, I sound 'normal'. (They don't understand that it takes effort to do that.) They think I'm being rude at other times, or that I don't like them. 

So, what should I do?

I don't want t keep doing this. It makes other people feel rejected, and it makes me look like I don't care. How do I explain to them (and to neurotypical friends, clients, family members and others) why I don't like speaking on the phone? Why it causes me distress? Is there some kind of short label for this? Or some summary explanation, such as "because my telephoneographicalisation neurons misfire when they send signals to my limbogangleocognitive dendrites" -- or something else that sounds plausible? 


Additional information, maybe not important:

 

I do sacrifice sometimes, especially if it's my mother or best friend. And I am obliged to take calls from the office when I am home (that doesn't happen often). Sometimes I'll also take a deep breath and answer the phone if it's my dyslexic relative, because sending a detailed message is as much trouble for him as it is for me to talk.

Naturally my phone aversion is more so when I'm experiencing sensory/emotional/cognitive overload (sometimes I can hardly talk at all at such times), but it's still there all the time even when I am in pretty good shape. 

There are actually some odd exceptions too (when I am in a normal, not stressed state), such as taking incoming calls from new clients at work -- I don't mind that, and I don't know why, exactly; maybe because the conversation is quite predictable and controllable, and I don't have any emotional connection to the person? I don't like taking calls from existing long-term clients, though, even if I like them. 

 

Other than relaxing with other aspies in a group, the easiest interpersonal situations for me are business meetings and work collaboration with clients. I know the protocols, we focus on a common goal, we are not expected to 'get along' as buddies (which would require me to 'be myself' whilst being myself is not acceptable, really). We get along extremely well and are mutually stimulated by the problem-solving. I am good at running meetings and participating in them, although it's actually best if my colleague is with me because he sees what I miss and can take care of the gaps.
 

Most clients would never guess that I am autistic, and many are incredulous when I tell them. When I am not stressed, I seem quite 'normal', just a bit more fun and quirky and energetic than many people (I have ADHD).

Personally, I don't feel absolutely 
obliged to answer an incoming call, because it's my phone and I can do what I want with it. If it's urgent, they can leave voicemail. 

However, I feel bad for the other person who may want to talk about a personal problem or a more complex practical thing, and not wait. Especially my friend who is in prison. I understand. There are times when even I feel insecure too and I want to talk to my best friend and cry, or make him feel OK by talking when he needs support. I do understand why they would want to talk or have a bit of friendly banter or discuss something. 

My mother knows I can be avoidant sometimes, and although she doesn't quite understand it, it doesn't cause her to feel rejected, it just inconveniences her sometimes. 

My voicemail message (new, recorded about 3 weeks ago) says, "If you're hearing this message, it means it is either difficult or impossible for me to communicate with you vocally. Please leave me a message, or if you want a quick response, hone my office." 

My best friend said that when I don't want to take calls I should switch the phone off completely so that the message will kick in immediately, rather than letting it ring and ring and eventually go over to voicemail. But I am concerned that if there's an emergency phone call or text message (for example from my mother, who may need help with my demented father), then I won't get the call or the message.


Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Selah R, M.S. LPC replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for trusting JustAnswer with your important question.I have met many people who have an aversion to speaking on the phone in the same way you describe. For many people, text is easier because there is less sensory input to figure out. Some also find it easier because when they have to listen to the speaker they also have to process out all the background noise, or they spend too much energy figuring out tone of voice and cadence of the words instead of focusing on the actual content of the message. Other people prefer text because it allows them time to think before they have to respond. It's socially acceptable to take much longer response times to texts or emails than verbal conversations. It also allows you to edit, modify, and reread your responses before hitting send to make sure you really responded in the way you intended rather than just your first gut reaction. Some people also prefer text or email because they can respond quickly, whereas phone conversations may drag on longer than they expected or are comfortable with, and they feel like they are being rude by cutting the talkative person off. Any or all of these issues may be reasons why you prefer written rather than verbal communication. I think your voicemail is a good start. You may consider adding to it that text messages and emails may get a faster response during the day that returned phone calls to give people a reminder and another option. Sincerely,Selah
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Yeah, I think response time is the main thing. And it takes effort for me to modulate my voice to sound polite, and to formulate my thoughts as speech, and when I manage to do it, they think I am fine, which often I am not.

Maybe I elaborated too much in my question above (typical aspie, too much detail), but my question is actually the one which is in the heading of my question:

How do I explain my phone aversion to others in a simple way? What is it called? Is there a name for it, so that I can say something like this to people, "My problem is called ______, and it is the result of ___________ (description of thing that happens in brain), and although I can force myself to speak on the phone, it is difficult because _____________ (explanation of neurological process) which is stressful and very tiring for me."?

It's easier explaining other things, e.g.

"I'm an aspie, and aspies aren't always good at understanding jokes. So, explain it to me as though I'm five years old." (And then I smile, showing them that I realise this is weird.)

or

"I'm an aspie and like some aspies I am clueless with directions. (Albert Einstein was an aspie, and he didn't know the way to his own house!). So don't tell me how to get there, just give me the street name and number, and I'll put it into my GPS."

or

"I'm autistic and I have a problem with the part of my brain which processes sensory information. I need to take a break now and cover my ears and eyes so that I can recover before our afternoon session. Is there a dark, quiet place where I could go?"

Somehow it's not so easy to explain about phone calls, especially to relatives who have known me all my life. I don't know how to say it. It doesn't seem to be sufficient to say, "I'm an aspie and some aspies don't like speaking on the phone." It seems like saying, "I'm an aspie, and some aspies are just selfish and rude."

So the question is, how does one explain it properly in a sentence or two, that people will understand that's how I have been designed?
Expert:  Selah R, M.S. LPC replied 2 years ago.
Because of autism, the parts of my brain the process sensory information, such as the sound of your voice and the background noises, and the parst that processes language, so I can understand what you are saying, do not multitask well. Communicating with me in written form helps me focus on what you are saying, so I can better understand and respond to what you need, because those different parts of my brain aren't having to fight each other.
Selah R, M.S. LPC, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 582
Experience: Licensed Professional Counselor; over 13+ yrs exp working with adults, teens, & families/couples.
Selah R, M.S. LPC and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I'm sorry I took so long to reply. I was working extremely long days (up to 18 hours), and then I forgot my password XXXXX

I'll be back to read your answer and think about it as soon as I have some headspace.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
It seems too vague to me. It doesn't seem to make sense or relate to what I am really experiencing. Someone might ask me why I then cope OK with face-to-face discussions most of the time.
Expert:  Camille-Mod replied 2 years ago.

Hi, I’m a moderator for this topic and I wonder whether you’re still waiting for an answer. If you are, please let me know and I will do my best to find an Expert to assist you right away. If not, feel free to let me know and I will cancel this question for you. Thank you!

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank-you for checking up on me!

It's OK, I think, I am awaiting a response from DoctorMichael. He was able to answer my previous question pretty well, and I was not sure before how to request him to answer this one, but I think he knows about it now. (You could check with him, though.)
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 2 years ago.
O.K., now on to this second question.

I think you might be able to make people understand your desire to communicate via emails and through writing by explaining WHY you are doing it a little differently than you have tried so far. Your explanation has to address what THEY are feeling and what they Assume about your emails and avoidance of the telephone. If you can put yourself in their shoes for a moment, I think you can see that one need they have is to feel appreciated in making the effort to communicate with you. Also, THEIR experience is that telephone conversation is superior to writing because they rely on the visual and nonverbal cues that are hugely important to them in conversing. That is most people, those without a special situation such as Aspergers, actually rely on nonverbal cues for about 60% of the meaning or content in face-to-face conversations and only to slightly lesser degree in phone conversation. Finally, to most people, talking on the phone or in person is much easier and faster than typing out a message.

When you add these "needs" that others have, that are associated with face-to-face and phone conversation, it all means that you need to reassure them that your emails are really THE MOST INTIMATE WAY you can communicate, because they don't see messaging that way at all. So you need to communicate or explain to them that in composing a written message, you are trying to show your highest level of sincere interest in them, and caring for them. Let me give you one example of a reassuring explanation:

"I know that for most people, phone conversations are much more intimate and personable. They feel much more connected with the other person when can talk to them, and they feel emails and written communication is impersonal and doesn't allow for an intimate connection as well. For me, because I'm so highly cognitive and intellectual and sometimes, not very good at seeing and listening for nonverbal cues, I actually find that writing an email lets my best side show through. For me, it is important to be able to write down and see what I want to say, and edit it, finding just the right words to express myself. I view careful writing as an act of love because I can take my time and say what I think and feel more accurately. So phone conversations can be frustrating to me because I'm on the spot and I don't have the visual cues to hear people correctly sometimes. I can treat my friends and loved ones better in my communication if I take my time to write things out to them. So in my 'world', writing things out is my best way of showing understanding, love and respect"

What do you think? Do you understand what I'm saying here?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank-you, I'll read it slowly this afternoon. (I often take long to reply, because I only have time for contemplation on my days off. Otherwise I'm too tired to concentrate on anything except for banter on Twitter and Facebook!)
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Wait, what happened? I did not mean to accept the answer from Selah R, M.S. LPC. How do I undo that?

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