Kylyssa Shay is a middle-aged American woman living with autism who enjoys sharing hard-earned life hacks with people who need them.
Autism is a Communication-Related Disorder; Telephones are Communications Devices.
Okay, 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 phone, 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 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, I’d like to ask you to read this page. Hopefully what I share here will help you understand. 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.
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 who experience 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 greater difficulties with communication than I do. Chances are they'll never, ever call you on the phone.
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.
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, this article on Asperger's is backed up with dozens of excellent references.
Another Person with Autism Has Similar Things to Say
Peter Seebach, an autistic person, explains a bit about communicating via email instead of by phone to better serve clients with autism, whatever your profession, in this article: Autistic People and Phones.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2016 Kylyssa Shay
Kenneth Claude from Ohio on February 26, 2019:
I also have Asperger's and struggle with phone calls. I often make light of myself when I look closely at my phone bill for the month and see that I made 3000 texts but only spent 4 minutes on the phone. Great article !
Rachel on January 14, 2019:
Your page has truly inspired me and blessed me. I have a child with Asperger Syndrome, she was diagnosed at 3. Her delays are gross motor, but very social in person and around peers. I am 36, I have been a loner most my life, and I do not like speaking on the phone. I talk through writing, as I feel better to explain myself. I do not like making phone calls, but I feel mute most of the time or I have to feel ok about the person I am calling, in emergencies it is easy to call 911. I almost feel I am avoidant to calls rather I get extremely depressed when conversations become one sided or I get interpreted when I try to talk. Im certain a lot of people are like this, but I tend to want to always be alone or work alone doing a project or my homework. I rather send emails than talk or engage in minor texting and perfer people to call me, and if is a important call. I will return the call after a voicemail. I was told by an autistic friend, I was autistic too. I am a very isolated person but in social events sometimes I just become mute and try to engage in conversations by giving a cue like a smile. I also was born anemic, have moderate recurrent major depression and general aniexty. I have references on the telephone - prefered to be called because chances are I'll probably never call you. In my childhood, Id play alone even with peers, I did not really talk on phone much with my friends, but as I got older I kinda fell off the planet, social media took over, and I have not talked on the phone longer than 10 minutes in a very very long time. If someone catches me on a good day when Im not feeling sick, from my vitamin levels being low or it's not winter. I think I'm a good person to communicate with. Pisces Virgos and Aries are good people I can associate with very well, especially another pisces.
Kristen D. in Maine on September 07, 2017:
Thank you for sharing. I wish I would've read this article months ago. I dated a very wonderful, kind, succesful, and handsome man earlier this year but did not figure out he had AS until after we stopped dating. The routines and communication issues all made sense once I figured it out. If only I had known!
He never told me about AS, but did repeatedly mention his routines, difficulty reading body language, etc. I absolutely believe he was aware of AS yet did not chose to reveal to me for whatever reason.
A breakdown of what I otherwise thought was developing into a great relationship occurred over the issue of phone calls, or the lack thereof. I got offended and quite hurt that he would refuse to call me when I kept telling him how important it was to me. Two calls in three months of dating. One that I initiated. To an NT, it simply seemed I was unimportant, etc. once it became obvious he didn't want to call me. I truly thought it was just selfishness or lack of interest. He was always on the phone for work so it didn't add up. I had never dated someone who seemed so nonchalant and indifferent with the communication in between dates and it took a huge toll on my confidence and brought out a lot of insecurities that I was investing time into someone I was developing feelings for who didn't seem to appreciate me in the same way. All I could think of was that he wasn't attracted, wasn't interested, etc. It was rough.
Things ended between us over text re: phone calls. It later came out that he thought I ended things when I thought he did! I texted him a lot after things ended (and I mean longgg embarassing texts and he probably thinks I'm a nut!) because I thought there was a miscommunication, but it was impossible to resolve over text. I kept texting out of frustration and trying to make him understand. I wanted to find closure. I was so upset that someone would date me for months and end things over text and not call, see me, etc. to say goodbye. It felt so rude, cold, and the whole situation caused me a lot of heartache unlike any other relationship ending. It seemed so pointless and confusing and did not seem to mesh with his character. I truly thought he was being a jerk and I certainly gave him a piece of my mind about that!
I have finally moved on romantically and learned a lot from the experience. However, I still grieve over the loss of a great man who I believe would've been a great friend. I really adore him and our in person conversations were always wonderful!
He is upset with me and doesn't respond to my texts and told me to essentially leave him alone. I tried to extend an olive branch by adding him on facebook, which I rarely use. He denied it. (I was shocked.) However, I definitely said some mean things to him months earlier and I'm sure he fixated on those comments and holds a grudge. I understand he is literal, but when people are heartbroken and confused, they sometimes lash out with comments that aren't true. I never treated someone like that before, never will again, and I remain so remorseful. I justified my words because I felt he deserved it (not to mention I was terribly confused), however, in retrospect he surely did not deserve to have received such messages from me. I apologized several times, but he didn't want to talk about it and ignores me. I know I need to respect his wishes and not contact him again. I've never made someone so upset and it is crushing as I certainly care about his opinion of me. However, I did all I could do.
It is devastating and I hope he learned moving forward that revealing AS is only going to help him date. I had no idea until it was too late. If I had known, I would've made sure to read up on the communication difficulties, etc. He has an amazing man, I wouldn't have cared if he has AS. If anything, it makes me respect and admire him more because of his great success and clear obstacles he has overcome.
This article is wonderful because any neurotypical will otherwise be bewildered by AS communication in datin and view it as indifference and coldness vs. a legitimate communication issue that has nothing to do with the NT.
I apologize for the length of this! I typed it out on my phone.
Thanks for writing this.
Ivan Hernandez on July 08, 2017:
Thank you, Kylyssa.
Also, I never knew you were homeless until I read this post. Also, I never new that you had lupus until this post as well. I constantly injure myself to get people's attention. I mostly do it to my head to make a point, that my autistic brain is sick.
According to Temple Grandin, as you get older, you start to become less autistic because of how you control your behavior. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to control my behavior as of yet, and I probably will never control my behavior, but I got to try.
Anyways, I loved reading this article. From an autistic friend to you
Erick Ivan Hernandez.
Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on July 08, 2017:
That was a kind thing to say. My writing is what it is more due to my environment and my obsessions than due to anything special about me. Reading is my primary obsession and I read very fast.
When I was about five, I decided to read only things that would either entertain me or teach me something, preferably both. I think the decision coincided with getting a library card for the first time and having to confine my reading to the checkout limits. A few years after that, I decided to try to read and consume only quality entertainment mostly of an educational nature because I was getting bigger and having to do more physical labor around the farm and it seriously cut into my reading time. Of course, being homeless and later working when I was an adult really cut into my reading time.
About ten years ago, all my injuries sustained as a homeless person caught up to me when my lupus came online and worsened. This was both horrible and wonderful. It cut off my income instantly and my health took a big dive when I lost my health insurance, but it did give me more time to read and to write.
There's a lot more access to written material now and I've been soaking in it almost non-stop for the last ten years. Some days when I'm feeling terrible and dizzy, I'll read as many as five or six books in a day. Some of it was bound to "stick" and have an effect on the way I speak. If you find anything remarkable in my writing, credit it to all the amazing authors I've been privileged to read.
Ivan Hernandez on July 07, 2017:
WOW!! I have never seen such exquisite writing from a person with Asperger's before. Usually, I'm pretty shy when making a phone call to my friends because I'm the one dialing. I fear rejection by a lot of people. I understand you very well, and am aware of your troubles.
I can't wait to read more of your stories. Friend-to-friend conversations are rare in people with Autism, such as you and I. I understand the difficulties faced with being autistic. Just letting you know. From a friend to you
Erick Ivan Hernandez.
Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on May 05, 2017:
Thanks for this article. So clear, and the comments are enlightening as well.
I'm not on the spectrum, but I'm an introvert, don't have the greatest social skills, and this problem of how to handle phone conversations was very real for me when I was younger. Now, at 40, I am FINALLY learning how to "ask good questions." I've also (finally) realized that people don't mind cliches like "How are you?" "How has the weather been over there?" "How are your kids?" etc. But, due to the way my mind is designed, I will probably always be more comfortable communicating in print, about a specific topic (e.g. commenting on a Hub!).
Some of the commenters have expressed real frustration. I wonder if perhaps they have a person in their lives who is on the spectrum and also happens to be very demanding at this time. It seems like the "we give and give" comment is coming out of a current life experience more than an issue with you and your Hub.
The other possibility is that they honestly can't imagine what social anxiety is like. I've seen this with Extroverts who are actually offended by the fact that Introverts exist (i.e. that we truly need time alone). It seems like an insult to them that, given the choice, we would ever choose to spend time alone rather than interacting with them.
Anyway, thanks for this.
Mike on February 26, 2017:
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 Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on January 22, 2017:
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?
Treespiritdances on January 22, 2017:
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 Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on December 21, 2016:
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.
tessa on December 19, 2016:
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
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 31, 2016:
Informative and so much I have learned from this topic.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 22, 2016:
Very interesting read. Well done.
Melissa on April 01, 2016:
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 Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on March 02, 2016:
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 from USA on March 01, 2016:
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.