It was an ordinary Tuesday, or so I thought, when I was having a relaxing morning before commencing my work-from-home tasks (since January this year, I’ve been working for a neurodivergent recruitment agency called Exceptional Individuals where I plan and create animated explainer videos for them – I work in their office on Mondays and at home on Tuesdays). I decided to check my notifications on YouTube to see what new videos I fancied watching; however the notification at the very top took me by surprise. The notification was of a comment where the person who wrote it said that they couldn’t understand what I was saying in one of my videos and my speech was muffled. This was the first time that somebody has ever commented on one of my videos where they said they couldn’t understand me. Although the person was apologetic in the comment, it still hit me very hard and I didn’t know how to reply to it (I probably would have apologised if they couldn’t understand me, there were subtitles for them to follow and I explain in the video description why I add subtitles, but I wasn’t sure if the person had read the description or not), but because I was more sensitive to the comment than usual that week due to having received some sad family news the day before, I decided to delete the comment and block the person who wrote it (I also had an overwhelming week at the time I uploaded the video). The person’s comment combined with the news about family bereavement played on my mind all day and affected my ability to work, but I got there in the end. I even went over to Instagram stories to write about the comment, say how it affected me and explain why I add subtitles to my videos. Some of my followers who saw my stories sent me some lovely and supportive direct messages where one person said they could understand me perfectly without reading the subtitles while another said that it’s good that I put in the hard work and effort of adding them. I have also made a text-and-music-only video where I explain why I subtitle my videos.
When I was a teenager, I had braces fitted. Both my mum and I believe that the braces could have restricted my mouth movements, hence why people can find it hard to understand me sometimes. I also think my somewhat poor diction (the clarity of my speech) is affected by my autism, even though other people with autism I know personally and follow online speak very clearly. Every so often, I get frustrated when people say they don’t understand me and ask me to repeat myself because I feel that they don’t listen to me. There was even a time when someone said they’d rather ask me to repeat myself than pretend that they have heard me when they haven’t really heard me first time around. Although their point was valid, they assumed I got angry upon repeating myself, but unfortunately, their assumption led me to go into meltdown mode later on in the day. I put my initial “anger” and meltdown down to the combination of the aforementioned YouTube comment and my house deputy manager not understanding me, which I will explain in more detail in a bit.
The most frustrating moments of people not understanding me have included those where I have asked them simple questions (such as, “Is your e-mail not working?” to my house deputy manager when I was worried he wasn’t replying to my e-mails – after he asked me to repeat the question twice, I had to repeat it as clearly and slowly as I could whilst trying not to get frustrated) or have given them straightforward answers to questions (such as, “Yes please,” or, “No thank you,” when shop assistants have asked me if I needed a bag or, “I’m ready,” when members of waiting staff have asked me if I was ready to order my food in a restaurant) yet I still had to repeat myself. One instance of a member of restaurant staff not understanding me has led to me being given the wrong order while another member of waiting staff in another restaurant had to get someone else to take my drinks order because he could not understand my simple request of ordering a Diet Coke. During a recent GP appointment, the doctor asked me to write down what I was saying in her notebook because she said she wasn’t following what I was saying. I had no problem with that at all, but she did seem to misunderstand me in another appointment I had with her and she had to rely on my house deputy manager, who accompanied me to the appointment, to tell her what I was saying.
Another concern I have about my diction is using the phone. There were a couple of phone calls I made such as one where I cancelled my delivery pass for an online supermarket and another one where I tried to renew my Freedom Pass (a travel pass that allows me free travel by bus and tube in London due to my autism). On both occasions, the people on the other end could not understand me when I gave them basic information. I even reacted in different ways in response to the misunderstandings. While I threw the phone in frustration during the call with the online supermarket (please read this post for more information), I ended the call during my original Freedom Pass renewal conversation and tried again later when the other person could understand me perfectly. There was another occasion where the deputy manager of my house and I made a phone call to begin my PIP application process and he advised me to speak clearly (strangely enough, I didn’t find him telling me to speak clearly as condescending as him telling me to write properly as I mentioned in this blog post), but ironically during the phone call, the person on the other end seemed to have had more trouble understanding him than she did understanding me probably due to a particular factor of his speech that I won’t go into. When it comes to making medical appointments at the doctor, the dentist or the hospital, I prefer to make them face to face on site rather than on the phone (with the exception of making a more urgent appointment on a Monday morning due to having fallen ill one weekend and my GP is closed at weekends) because I also worry that a bad phone signal would affect the person’s ability to understand me.
There were some moments where my parents suggested I have speech therapy again like I did at my previous care home to help me improve my diction, although I focused more on my intonation (the tone of my voice) rather than my diction in those sessions. I thought that restarting the speech therapy sounded like a good idea, especially when I moved to my flat two years ago; however due to my current work commitments, I would find those sessions hard to fit in. Perhaps speech therapy is something I would reconsider in the future.
In conclusion, I have mostly had some challenging moments with my diction and misunderstandings, but I have learnt how to deal with them such as mostly writing down something for someone, continuing to add subtitles to my videos and using written forms of communication such as text messaging, online chat services and e-mails rather than verbal methods of communication such as the phone. Maybe one day when I have speech therapy again, my voice will be so clear that I will no longer need to add subtitles to my videos.