Monday, 22 January 2018

"But you can speak on the phone sometimes"

(This is a picture of a woman wearing a pink dress, talking on a telephone).
"But you can speak on the phone sometimes!"
I get that a lot, when I explain that I can find speaking on the phone very difficult.  Most autistic people do.
Some days I am partly or completely non-verbal for part of the day, and I simply cannot speak at all.  That's rare, but it can happen.
The rest of the time, I'm relying on 'stock phrases' when I pick up the phone.
"Good morning, this is Company X, how can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm fine thank you.  What about you?"

"Of course.  I'll put you through."
I can do that.  Not a problem.
But, listening to complex instructions for a long time over a phone line is really, really difficult for me.  Some autistic people can do that.  Me, I'm worried that I will miss intonation that turns out to be really important, for example.  Let me give you an example of voice tone, and how it changes the context:
"I SAID you must move the money".
"I said YOU must move the money"
"I said you MUST move the money"
"I said you must MOVE the money"
"I said you must move the MONEY"
I have put the emphasis on different words in the sentence.  All those mean something different.  But if you can't hear voice tone, that becomes tricky. To me, if spoken, they all sound the same. 

That's just one sentence.  By the time people have used voice tone for nearly every sentence they speak, it can get mighty confusing.  And exhausting.  And I get in big trouble if I fail to get stuff right afterwards.   If it's business-critical stuff, I can't afford to rely on interpreting voice tone and bizarre expressions.  What do I mean by bizarre expressions?  "We shall completely mesh the emerging systems, and holistically explore the boundaries, whilst pushing the envelope on timescales".  I think someone actually said that to me, last week.
Here's a picture of me pushing an envelope...

Written instructions tend to be easier.  Certainly easier to query.

If it's a casual phone conversations on a topic I know really well, I can do that.
If it's a totally new topic, with people I don't know well, that's a big ask for me.

So, I work in writing where I can, as a personal preference.  Or I ask to meet in person with others of my team who can be additional listeners.  

Each autistic person has their own best way of communicating.  We need to respect it as much as we would a Blind person asking for audio, or a Deaf person asking for things in writing.  It's not a joke, it's not a way to annoy organisations.  It's vital to ensure that there is meaningful and accurate communication.

Is this a 'deficit'?  Let me ask you a question.  If you went to lawyer to write a Will for you, would you hope that they wrote something vague?  Something that could be misconstrued?  Gave you a quick chat and nothing in writing?  How about if you were doing your tax accounts and went to an Accountant who did the figures in a vague way that could mean almost anything, with you just taking notes and hoping for the best?  Suppose you went to a Doctor, and they gave you a set of vague instructions for your medication, scribbled on the back of an envelope?  Some things require accuracy.  We're the accuracy.  There are endless autistic professionals whose brains are simply superb at making sure words say what they mean.  That's what my Professional Practice does.  It's done it accurately, for £billions in properties, for 18 years and counting.  That's a benefit. It's a business advantage.  It's what keeps clients of all kinds safe and well looked after.

Find out what autistic people do differently, and why it's sometimes a lot better than others can do.  Then, make use of us.  But respect that we need communication to be clear.
Thank you for listening.