The Life Autistic: What’s with the Accent?

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Since you’re here, you should check out the video I did on this topic! Come learn more on The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — and follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram as well.

When it comes to autism, sometimes it takes one to know one. The tells, the signs, the idiosyncrasies — our AutismRadar® is near flawless.

“Hunter, I think you need to talk to this guy,” said June*, one of the managers who reported to me. “I’m not sure what to make of him.”

“How do you mean?”

June told me more about one of her new employees, Benjamin Bennett*, who’d started going by B2. “He said he was inspired by you, H2!”

Great. 

She described some of his mannerisms, how he acted in meetings, communicated in email, and then dropped what I found to be the most interesting tidbit.

“He does these . . . accents when he talks to customers. Like, not his normal accent.”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll talk to him.”

There were two ways that coin could flip.

Some people would smack down with a variation of “Ok, what you’re doing is weird, and you need to stop,” and just make life worse.

The other approach would be that gentle, almost meek, “So, tell me why . . .” style of discovery, unassuming, wise-as-a-serpent-but-ultimately-harmless way of getting him to fess up and explain more.

I went for a third option: make this coin stand on its edge.

Benjamin and I had a great talk a week later, discussing career progression, job skills, how he was adapting to his new team, etc.

As I relayed and related some of my experience, I casually mentioned:

“When I was on the phones, I’d even switch up my accent. Sounds weird, but sometimes it helped, if you can believe.”

100% true, folks.

And I still do it to this day.

It’s a bit of an odd habit, and sure enough, it’s something we autists share to a degree.

My phone habit? An unconscious shift to a Southern drawl, which oozed sweet tea, honey, and biscuits – all of which de-escalated my most irate callers.

And then when out and about, talking to my wife, I take on this almost Received Pronunciation British lilt, as if I have to be overheard with “more intrigue.” Too many William F. Buckley vids? I’ve no idea. Mrs. H2 isn’t ever amused.

And then there’s my lack of accent, an unplaceable affect that I take pride in maintaining. Since I’m half-robot anyway, I find it fitting.

So, what’s with the accent then?

I couldn’t tell you. Stress response? Phoneaesthetic soothing? Who knows.

Back to that talk with B2, my confession loosed a sigh of relief and exultation from him — he didn’t have to worry about being ‘weird’ or suffer the consequences of being ‘different’ in a way that few understood.

But I did.

Takes one to know one.

*not their real names

Image courtesy WikiHow

The Life Autistic: Why I Don’t Answer the Phone

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“I’m not too good on the phone.” — Leonard Shelby, Memento 

If I were braver and more foolish, I’d post my number here and invite you to dial me.

Go ahead.

I can already tell you what’s going to happen. It’s going to voicemail, where you’ll hear my recorded snippet cut to the chase: Text me instead. 

Why?

Conversations are hard for us autistic folk.

Do I want to hear from people? Sure.

Don’t I want to talk to others for important things? Of course.

Am I just being an unreachable jerk? Hardly.

The less I can predict where a conversation could go, the more anxious I get.

Phone conversations have variables, tonal shifts, no body language, and few clear exit points. That’s just “talking” for neurotypical people.

Not for me.

I need a better idea of what I’m getting into. What the conversation’s going to be about. Time to plan. Time to think. Time to get the words in order. Space to process. Drafts to draft. Ways to frame what I want to say with a minimal risk of what I write being taken out of context.

Social navigation in The Life Autistic takes extra work. We can’t drive through all conversational turf the way you’d speed around somewhere where you’re most familiar.

So call me maybe.

I probably won’t answer.

But I’m here.

Help me draw the map of conversation and text instead.