Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Neuro Diversity, The Preverbal Swan, and the Humble Mobile Phone

A few years ago, when I was working front of house at a museum, I attended a course on Deaf Awareness. The course was run a lovely man who was profoundly deaf. It was very illuminating, as there were so many things that caused deaf people issues that seemed so obviously but that we’d hearing people had never thought of. At one point he explained how mobile phones had revolutionised communication of the deaf community. This caused some stifled giggles from some of the older attendees, largely those that can recall the ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, Rowan Atkinson, Deaf Telephone News Skit – (it you know you know – and like me you’re old!) Thankfully the course leader laughed too, and said he’d had the exact same response when a deaf friend advised him to get mobile phone. However, it was not the ability to make calls on the go – but the innovation of text messages that had the positive impact. And of course this was greatly improved with the advent of smart phones and video calling meaning it’s possible to have conversations in sign language that has had the positive impact.

Now I am not profoundly deaf (I am a little bit deaf) but I’d never compare myself to that or my Neuro Diverse issues with what the deaf community faces, but there are some similarities. For example how the mobile phone can help neuro diverse people navigate the modern world, and how many neuro-typical people are largely oblivious to their difficulties.

I have dyslexia and dyscalculia. Most people have some idea of what dyslexia is, but few people have heard about dyscalculia or know that it affects your ability to process and understand numbers. Living with dyslexia and dyscalculia is a challenge in a world that is increasingly reliant on password, passcodes and pins numbers. Many of which are a sequence of letters, or letters and numbers.


Having Dyslexia I have a dreadful short term memory. I can remember exactly three telephone numbers

  • My mobile phone number – but only if I recite in a particular rhyme.
  • My childhood telephone number - as it was the same for twenty years, but due to relocation is no longer belonging to anyone I know.
  • My parent’s landline, which they had for over nineteen years. However they disconnected it a few weeks ago.

*I also do not know any pin number/passcodes. And if I do I can’t input them correctly.

So I rely on my digital Swiss Army Knife (to quote someone much cleverer than me), and use my mobile as a database. I save my codes and passwords on it, so I can easily find them or even copy and paste them. This is fine until something happens to your phone.

Recently I was on holiday in France, with my son, and my friend and her son – and I lost my phone. I was stuck in foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I couldn’t contact anyone as I don’t know any telephone numbers, and I can’t get any money out or pay for anything by card if a pin is required. Essentially I couldn’t function. This didn’t make for a relaxing holiday at all.

The reason I’m writing this post is that many people didn’t grasp the impact of not having a phone had on me, and seemed to think I was overreacting. I had a lot of well-meaning comments like…

“it’s annoying but… it’s only stuff, it can be replaced.”

People don’t see. It’s not a mere inconvenience, it takes away my ability to be independent and participate in modern life. It’s like taking away someone’s glasses.

Having penned this blog on holiday. I was umming and erring about posting this blog. However earlier today another ND friend broke her phone and going through a similar ordeal. So I decided to be brave and put this post up. To highlight, that although neuro diverse people are articulate, intelligent and together people many of our struggles go unnoticed, like the preverbal swan, its invisible – nothing to see on the surface, and yet we have many many coping mechanisms set up so we can function. And so a broken or lost mobile phone may indeed be a whole lot more than an inconvenience.

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