Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Alex has a love-hate relationship with the phone. While he has little interest in talking on the phone, probably because his receptive and expressive language skills tend to be weak, at times he enjoys eavesdropping on other people’s phone conversations. Without any visual cues to help him interpret what the person on the phone is saying to him, he struggles to respond to comments or questions. However, if he’s just listening to one side of the conversation and doesn’t have to participate himself, he seems to like being a bystander in that scenario. Moreover, he likes to ask nosy questions about who is calling and how long the caller is planning to talk, earning him the nickname of the Phone Police. If the conversation lasts for more than ten minutes, though, he often begins to fret that this phone call may break the world record for longest phone call, which he happens to know was done by a British man on September 14, 2007, during a call that lasted more than forty hours. I’m sure he must have Googled that one. Alex seems especially worried on those rare times when Ed, who freely admits that he hates talking on the phone, is on the phone, even though he’s much more unlikely to set a record phone call—unless he’s on the phone to our cable and internet provider— than I am since I love talking on the phone.

After eavesdropping on daily phone conversations between my mom and me, Alex developed a game he referred to as “Phone Call Points.” As I was chatting with my mom, I would hear him call out seemingly random numbers throughout the call. These numbers seemed insignificant until I questioned him and realized that he’d developed an elaborate system where I earned points for saying certain words and phrases and had points deducted for saying other things. For example, affirmative words and phrases, such as, “Yes,” “Uh-huh,” and “Yeah” earned positive points, whereas negative words and phrases, such as “No,” “Uh-uh,” and “Nah” caused me to have points taken away from my total score. One of the worst things I could say, points-wise, was “I don’t know.” Alex would not only deduct points, but he would sometimes let me know the error of my ways by whining or making the sound of a buzzer, similar to that on game shows where an incorrect answer is given. When I reached certain levels of positive points, he would often clap his hands and/or jump in the air to show his enthusiasm for my accomplishments in his game. Once I earned an elite level of one thousand phone call points, he would bring me a cloth stuffed apple wearing a mortar board, which was a high school graduation gift from my parents. I didn’t immediately understand why he viewed this as an award for my phone call status until I realized it said on the apple, “Congratulations!” I have to hand it to the kid: he’s really pretty clever.

After a few years of playing phone call points and actually participating in the calls by talking to my mom (albeit through a scripted routine where he knew what questions she would ask so that he felt comfortable answering them), Alex suddenly decided a few weeks ago that he didn’t want to have anything to do with the phone. He doesn’t want to talk on the phone, and he doesn’t want me to talk on the phone any length of time. Since it’s not worth triggering the wrath of Alex, I’ve allowed him to think that I don’t talk on the phone anymore, but I sneak off and make calls without his hearing me. When I’ve asked him what has changed his attitude toward Phone Call Points, he acts annoyed and tells me that in 2008, I got two thousand phone call points, which was too many. I’m surprised he let me continue the game for two more years. However, I suspect that this sudden phone boycott is simply another phase he’s going through that will disappear in time. In the meantime, I guess we should count our blessings that unlike most households with teenagers, we don’t have to worry about Alex tying up the phone, talking for hours. Instead, he’s probably busy inventing some other game to replace Phone Call Points, and I’m hoping that he figures out a way for me to win that “Congratulations” apple award again soon.

“The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17


Big Daddy Autism said...

I certainly can relate to the phone issues. My boy drives me nuts.

One thing that is perplexing to me about this post is the world record for the lonest call. How could one man hold the record? Wasn't he talking to someone on the other end? Seems unfair to only give one guy the title. Unless there were multiple people on the other end of the call taking shifts. Maybe I'm over anlyzing this?

Anyway, I can relate to the your phone situation and issues.

Pam Byrne said...

You were awfully brave to give your son a cell phone. We have kept our phones hidden from Alex for several years after he decided to see what happened when he dialed 911. (Explaining autism to the policeman who comes to your door when this happens is something we'd rather not repeat!)

Since you asked, I checked on that record phone call; he talked to a bunch of different people who took turns helping him break the record. BTW, the same guy also holds the world record for sleeplessness--11 days. I think we may have topped that before we put Alex on melatonin, but we were too tired to call the Guinness World Records people.