The Phone

One of the things I’ve found in reading random autism-centric blogs, written by people on the autism spectrum, is that much of what has been known about autism has been wrong. This is likely because previous information was gathered by non-autistic people observing autistic people.

With computers, the Internet and the Web, people on the spectrum are able to start telling their experiences in life. I find it interesting to read the experiences of others on the spectrum and see just how similar their experiences are to my own. Within the past few years, I’ve gone from seeing myself as someone abnormal in a world of normal people, to seeing that there are plenty of people out there just like me.

Today at work was a good example of where my mindset operates differently from the neurotypical mindset.


To give a bit of background, I had to call a company to have some electronic files be recreated on their server, so I can download them. Downloads have to be done over modem, and the hosting server will delete a file after it has been downloaded. However, we get random disconnects, with the server sometimes deleting a file we haven’t finished downloading.

I’ve had to call in about having a file regenerated before. Sometimes I need two or more files regenerated, with each file being for one of our four hospitals. When you call, you have to provide information related to your hospital. This means after giving the information on getting one file regenerated, I have to say, “By the way, we have another hospital that needs a file regenerated.” I’ve tried different methods, such as mentioning early in the call that I need files for multiple hospitals, but it’s never easy for me.

Due to an error with the company testing an upgrade, we didn’t get files for a week. This meant I needed to call and request they regenerate a week’s worth of files. For each of the four hospitals. We needed seven days worth for one hospital, and five days for the other three. That alone can make things confusing. It’s hard enough sometimes getting the right day’s file regenerated, so what if the different dates cause even more confusion? That would mean having to call again!

I knew the background would be longer and more wordy than I’d like…

Placing the call

Placing a call isn’t a simple matter of picking up the phone and dialing the number. It requires mental preparation. It can take as long as 45 minutes of mental preparation before picking up the phone. (This time is spent working on other things.) The less certain I am of how the phone call will go, the longer it takes to prepare. And each call to this company seems to require I give different information, or I always need the one thing I forgot to include during preparation of writing down all the information I’ll be asked for.

I decided that since one hospital needed seven days of files regenerated, and the others needed five, I’d split it up into two calls. (How fun!)

I placed the first call, knowing that because it’s afternoon, there would be a wait before someone answered the phone. Waiting at this point is always difficult for me. I’ll put the phone on speaker so I can hear when someone picks up, but I can’t work very well in the meantime, because I’m expecting at any moment to have to pick up the receiver. And whenever the automated message thanking me for waiting comes on, I think someone has answered the phone. It plays once every minute or two.

There was actually no wait time, which caught me off guard. That was a strike right there. I didn’t expect someone to answer right away in the afternoon. Thankfully she asked for information I had right in front of me.

The call went well enough. The seven files for the one hospital were queued to be regenerated, and I ended that call. Then the horror struck: What if I get the same person when I call back later? Panic. What if she asks why I didn’t just ask for the other hospitals’ files to be queued while on the phone the first time around? Panic. I don’t think I’ve ever talked with the same person twice when calling there, but I’ve probably never called twice in one day before. There might be a very good chance I’ll get the same person. Panic!

The second call

It wasn’t going to be a simple 45 minute preparation for the second call. Not with this in mind. It would be at least an hour, with heavy breathing, and an empty feeling in my chest. Thankfully, in that hour, I managed to think of a story I could tell in case it’s the same person. Essentially, “It turns out we have three more hospitals that need files queued.” And that much is true enough. Regardless of whether I knew about them when I placed the first call, there were three more. I was about ready to make that second call.

Okay, just a few more breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. And out. Reach for that phone, and—

In the next cubicle over, a co-worker’s cell phone rang. I froze up as she answered the phone. It was a past co-worker calling, so the conversation went on a little.

One of the difficulties I have is in picking out one person speaking when two are speaking. With that co-worker talking on the phone, I would be unable to distinguish the words of the person I would be talking with. In a flash, I had reverted back to heavy breath, empty chest, unable to make a call. The co-worker’s conversation went on for a while, and when it finally ended, I was back to needing to relax my mind before I could even consider placing that call.

Eventually, I was ready to make that call (or as ready as I would be). I placed the call, and there was no wait time. The person who answered the phone was–who else?–the same person as earlier! That was enough to get my mental capabilities going haywire for a moment.

Somehow I made it through the call. I felt I fell flat on my face a couple of times, but I seemed to manage. I was “ma’am” at one point, but I get that all the time on the phone. Even when I give my name as “Christopher” rather than “Chris”, I’ll still be “ma’am”. (I went with “Chris” on these two calls.)

This whole phone thing: does it ever get any easier?