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PHONE CALL ANXIETY + NEURODIVERSITY

As someone who has spent her entire life navigating the complex world of neurodiversity, I understand firsthand the struggles that come with trying to communicate in ways that are not necessarily designed for us. One particular area that seems to present a lot of difficulties for many neurodivergent individuals is talking on the phone.

A person getting stressed out by their phone

While some people might assume that the problem is simply a matter of shyness or anxiety, the truth is far more complex. In this post, I want to explore some of the reasons why it can be so challenging for neurodivergent individuals to talk on the phone and offer some tips for making the experience less stressful and overwhelming.


First and foremost, it's important to understand that many neurodivergent individuals struggle with the social cues and subtle nuances that are inherent in verbal communication. When we're face-to-face with someone, we can pick up on facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues that help us understand the conversation and navigate the social dynamics at play. But on the phone, all of those cues are missing, and we're left to rely solely on the words being spoken. This can be a significant challenge for those of us who struggle with social communication, making it difficult to know when it's our turn to talk, when someone is finished speaking, or when we should change the subject.


Another factor that can make phone conversations particularly challenging is the lack of visual stimulation. Many neurodivergent individuals have a heightened need for visual input, and without it, we can become easily distracted, overwhelmed, or even disoriented. When we're talking on the phone, there's nothing to look at except the wall or the ceiling, and this can make it difficult to focus on the conversation at hand.


Finally, many neurodivergent individuals struggle with sensory issues that can make phone conversations physically uncomfortable or even painful. For example, some people may find the sound of the phone ringing to be overwhelming, while others may find the sensation of holding a phone to their ear to be physically uncomfortable. These sensory challenges can make it incredibly difficult to engage in a conversation, even if we're able to navigate the social and cognitive challenges.


So, what can we do to make phone conversations more manageable? Here are a few tips:

  • Use video chat instead of the phone whenever possible. This can help provide the visual stimulation that many neurodivergent individuals need to feel comfortable and engaged in the conversation.

  • Prepare ahead of time. If you know you're going to have to make a phone call, take some time to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. And I don't mean sitting on your couch paralyzed - this might mean doing some deep breathing exercises, listening to music, or engaging in a calming activity before the call.

  • Use visual aids. If you're having trouble following the conversation, try using visual aids like notes or diagrams to help you keep track of what's being said.

  • Take breaks as needed. If you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious during a phone call, don't be afraid to ask for a break or to end the call early. It's important to prioritize your own well-being and comfort.

  • Consider alternative forms of communication. If the phone is simply too challenging for you, consider using alternative forms of communication like email or text messaging.

Talking on the phone can be an incredibly challenging experience for many neurodivergent individuals. But by understanding the unique challenges we face and taking steps to manage them, we can make phone conversations more manageable and less overwhelming. Remember, it's okay to prioritize your own well-being and comfort, even if that means avoiding phone conversations altogether!

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