A few days ago I made a phone call. I put in the number, waited for someone to pick up, told them who I was and what I wanted, answered their questions, was passed on to someone else,waited on hold, sorted the issue out, said goodbye and hung up the phone. I know what some of you will be thinking “So what? That’s a phone call. People make them all the time. I don’t see the big deal!”. But because of the nature of this blog I know there are some of you who will be thinking something more along the lines of “Oh God that sounds awful! I hate doing that/the idea of doing that!” Due to my autism I am firmly in the second camp, and that’s why I wanted to blog about making a phone call, because – as I only realised after it was all over with – it’s the first phone call of that kind I have ever made.
I have called my family on a couple of occasions, although I don’t even like doing that, or talking to someone on the phone when they call me. It’s hard for me to put my finger on quite why I find talking on the phone so hard (even harder than talking to someone face-to-face I mean) Perhaps it’s because it is so hard to tell when I should be talking as I have no visual clues; I can’t see who I am talking to – it’s just a voice with no face attached to it. Also, when you phone a call centre the background is often noisy, and while some people might not even notice this, if you’re autistic it’s hard to filter out that background noise. And there is the issue of anticipation; if you know you have to make a phone call the anxiety and nervousness can build all day. But you have to put an end to that; you have to be the one to pick up the phone and make the call. But you also have the power to put it off which means that you can fall in to a cycle of putting it off as it’s so stressful which means you wait longer, which means you grow more stressed. The stress and anxiety of knowing you have to make a phone call can be huge. Your chest can go tight and you can start to turn over and over in your head what you might say, and what the person on the other end of the line will say back to you. And sometimes this will help to calm you, but other times it will just get you more and more worked up to the point of panic. To then have to pick up the phone, make the call, and deal with whatever it is you are calling about can be a massive task.
What seems so small, and day-to-day to some people can be a skill that it takes a life time to master (or get to grips with but not quite master in most cases) for autistic people. I am twenty two now, and as I say I have only just got to the point of making a phone call for myself. However, just because I made one phone call does not mean that I would be able to make another, or even that I would feel confident enough to call the same people back about the same issue if it were to happen again. But even if I am able to call them again, and call other people up and talk to them, that would not mean there would be no impact. My Mum (who is also autistic) has been making phone calls all her life, and can talk on the phone for three or four hours when sorting out a computer related issue, still gets all the same worry and stress that I do from the idea of using the phone. She is able to do it yes, but it still leaves her feeling worn-out, and takes a toll on her.
So I am aware that there might never be a time when I am able to use the phone with ease and free from stress, I might always get a tight chest and a sense of panic at the idea of having to ring someone up and talk to them, and even as an old man I might still do all I can to avoid talking on the phone. But now that I have made a phone call from beginning to end I do feel a certain sense of accomplishment. I know that for most people this is no big thing, but up until a few days ago it was something I had never been able to do. And I am glad that to a degree I feel I have at least somewhat got the hang of a skill that has eluded me for years. As I say, I might not be able to use that skill again next week or in the foreseeable future, but the fact that I have been able to use it even once is good in itself.
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