You don't look sick


Categories: Personal Autism

So, my spouse got diagnosed with autism recently, which explains one of our recurring problems: I’m the only one who can usually handle talking to strangers on the phone.

This can be a problem when, say, dealing with a credit card company, who have imprinted like baby ducks on the notion that you have to speak over the phone to the primary cardholder, and no other form of communication can be an acceptable substitute. Note that this is probably one of the most insultingly weak security mechanisms I’ve ever seen; I can tell you where to find roughly three billion people who could convince a phone rep that their legal name was “Jessica”.

The problem is that there’s no obvious physical problem. It’s not like laryngitis. Can’t talk on the phone isn’t a physical problem; it’s not inability to hear, or inability to speak. It’s a purely cognitive thing where Something Goes Wrong when confronted with a phone. I don’t have it nearly as strongly, but I sort of get it, and I don’t think there’s words that explain it in English unless you already have it. In which case “can’t talk to strangers on the phone” is perfectly obvious; it’s that problem.

People who do this aren’t faking, they aren’t lazy, they’re just unable to do something for a reason which isn’t obvious.

It doesn’t help, at all, that phone reps are in general trained to respond to questions with outright lies about laws and policy, and there’s usually no reliable record of what they said. I wish that “this call may be monitored” were an ironclad guarantee that there IS a recording which is available to the caller as well and that promises made by phone reps were treated as contractually binding. I think customer support would improve a lot if reps weren’t encouraged to lie about what they can do.

Comments [archived]

From: AshtaraSilunar
Date: 2011-09-21 20:16:03 -0500

I despise phone calls, but I can manage. I would rather communicate via email or in person.

If you live in a one-party notification state (eleven aren’t), you could make your own recordings. So at least you would have proof of what was said.

From: Ariel
Date: 2011-09-21 22:00:17 -0500

I totally understand this. I tell people not to call me, that I will respond to texts. They act like I’m trying to avoid them. No, it’s more likely that I will avoid you if you call and answer the text promptly. Also, apparently it’s not normal to experience the gag-reflex whenever forced to talk to strangers on the phone. Any way, totally understand.