This is the internet weblog of Bix Frankonis.

Communications Breakdown

There’s not really any form of communication that I enjoy, per se. I suppose that I’m most comfortable with the sort of mass, meandering aimlessness of my Twitter feed, but that doesn’t exactly translate into utilitarian conversations such as those in the workplace, or, really, those involved in finding work to begin with.

I don’t really do small talk (despite my fondness for Twitter), although I can in certain contexts. What’s problematic for me is communication that has a purpose and a goal and is happening in real-time, be it face-to-face or over the phone.

Some of this is the fact that I am effectively incapable of multi-tasking. It dawned on me only recently that the reason I sometimes will interrupt someone I am talking with is because when a thought strikes me I am mentally incapable of simultaneously holding onto that thought for later and continuing to pay attention to what the other person is saying to me. So the thought leaps out of me while they are in mid-sentence, and I need to apologize, urge them to continue, and hope that the mere fact of me having said something out loud will be enough to bring my thought back into the conversation at a more suitable moment, like when it’s actually my turn to speak.

Telephone conversations in some ways make this worse, because at least face-to-face the other person likely has some conception of the fact that a thought has just struck you and you are waiting to be able to get to it. They also have some sense of when you are quiet because you thinking about things rather than from some sort of disinterest.

In both situations, too many things are required to be happening at the same time for an effective conversation to happen. It’s not dissimilar to why I cannot drive a car and stopped trying to learn pretty early on. I can’t steer the wheel, know which peddle I’m supposed to be using, know where the edges of the car are, and watch for pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars all at the same time. I’d have killed someone for sure.

Written communication is best for me. Emails are great, because they don’t have an immediate expectation of synchrony. In many ways, you’re expected to take time to respond. Direct messages and texts are okay, to an extent. The still bring with them some of the pressures of real-time conversation but also have a wider comfort zone for both parties when it comes to delays in responding.

Part of the problem, for me, with face-to-face and telephone conversations is there’s typically a pressure to respond, to come to a conclusion, to reach some sort of decision.

I have made some poor decisions because of this, often because my brain knows that the fastest way out of the stress of that conversation is to respond deferentially, which has led me to assent to things that a more careful consideration would have led me to understand were going to be more harmful to me in the long term than the short-term stress of the conversation itself.

During my first round of taking me and my diagnosis to Vocational Rehabilitation , I acceded to things said by my job coach and by the boss at my job placement that only made things difficult for me later, and it took me weeks to realize that it was because my brain took the shortest route out of the stress of social communication. It didn’t help that part of me had decided that I needed to appear as responsive and responsible as possible to the Vocational Rehabilitation process, and that sometimes overrode my better judgment.

To be clear, it isn’t the content of the real-time conversation that’s the problem, although obviously difficult conversations only make it harder. It’s the act of social communication itself. Remember this bit from my Psychodiagnostic Evaluation of October 2016?

Clinical evaluation and tests indicate that aspects of his functioning are impaired by his autism spectrum disorder, and related anxiety, cognitive and behavioral rigidity, deficits in social reciprocity, poor understanding and management of his own emotional and behavioral responses and his inability to tolerate distress, ambiguity and to engage in goal-directed behavior when he does not clearly see and agree with the method and purpose of the tasks and general direction of the activities.

These things don’t lend themselves well to social communication happening in real time, with an inherent, built-in sense that there’s an expected endpoint that must be reached. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, but I can’t think and converse at the same time, and the stress of doing so can spiral pretty quickly, or lead me to agree to things that aren’t in my best interest overall.

Written communication almost always is the best option. If there’s an issue that for whatever reason must be discussed with me face-to-face or over the phone, there shouldn’t be any pressure or expectation that I have clear or concise thoughts about it, let alone a decision. People need to give me time to consider that conversation after it’s over. If there’s some sort of action or decision required on my part, it’s going to have to wait.

There aren’t a lot of things I post here that overly are messages to future prospective employers, but this is one of them. It also applies to any agencies enlisted to support me.

Please think carefully about what you really require when it comes to communication and what you’re simply accustomed to doing. If you can avoid it, don’t call me. Don’t ask for a meeting. Email me. Text me. Give me the time and space I need to understand not just what you’re saying but its implications for my own wellbeing.

I’ll get back to you, I swear.