Repetitive Questions and Autism: Understanding Repetitive Questions
Autism and Asking Repetitive Questions
Many parents, carers and people that live or work with children with Autism will be familiar with the experience of a child who seems intent on persistently asking repetitive questions. Being unable to understand why your child is asking repetitive questions or what it is you can do to both help them and at the same time provide yourself with some respite from this repetitive behavior can often become both stressful and frustrating for all concerned.
Autism and repetitive behaviors often go hand in hand so learning to understand why your child is asking repetitive questions is critical to both increasing your natural tolerance to this type of repetitive behavior and in helping to direct you toward the best or most appropriate strategies to help in your particular situation.
What are Repetitive Questions?
In relation to repetitive questions and Autism, we will generally consider repetitive questions to be any questions which are repeated over and over again, usually in the same tone and manner and frequently within seconds or minutes of each other. Depending on the context and history of an individual’s situation and indeed the responses being provided by those being questioned at a given instance, the repetitive questions may persist for longer or shorter periods of time. Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as asking repetitive questions may also be dependent on various contextual factors such as location, time of day, who is present, what is being requested or expected of the individual etc. It’s always a good idea to try to get into the habit of keeping data on your observations in order to help you identify any potential patterns in your child’s repetitive behaviors.
Repetitive questions may continue for days, weeks, months or indeed years. The intensity and manner in which children with autism may pose questions will also vary depending on the individual concerned and how typical the responses being given are for that particular individual at a given time e.g. if a child has usually found answers or responses to be forthcoming and suddenly they become less so then the urgency and intensity of the repetitive questioning will likely increase.
With regard to children with Autism and asking repetitive questions we are also usually referring to questions that have already been and/or are being actively answered repeatedly and to which the child in question already knows and indeed expects and desires the exact same answer or response to be provided on each and every occasion that a repetitive question is posed.
Asking Repetitive Questions
Why do children with Autism ask repetitive questions?
There are numerous possible reasons why children with Autism might engage in asking repetitive questions. Like any behaviour the function of repetitive questions can vary both from one individual to another and from one time or situation to another. Learning to better understand the function/s repetitive questioning serve for your child will allow you to respond most appropriately to your child’s needs and provide you the best prospect of reducing or eliminating this repetitive behavior completely. It is worth remembering that repetitiveness is commonly something which comes with the territory with regard to Autism and many children with Autism simply enjoy the predictability of knowing the answers. Children with Autism often seek out and enjoy predictability and repetition across all aspects of their lives and repetitive questions are merely another expression of this particular preference or tendency. The following are some of the more common reasons why children with autism ask repetitive questions.
An attempt to communicate: Children with Autism may have the desire to communicate but not yet have the skills to either initiate or maintain a verbal interaction or conversation. Sometimes in a desire to express something that's new or too difficult to put into words the child may substitute by asking a more familiar question instead. Even children with good language skills may experience times when their ability to communicate is lessened due to stress or heightened emotion, both of which can result in them, at times, relying on less flexible forms of communication such as repetitive questioning. Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as repetitive questioning is also an effective way of avoiding other questions or verbal exchanges that are outside one’s comfort zone
A need for reassurance:All children but children with Autism in particular have a strong need for routine, predictability and smooth transitions from place to place or activity to activity and many children with Autism do not cope well with uncertainty or change. Unfortunately there are often many aspects of daily life that can be anxiety provoking and are outside of their control. When things do not go as expected and when things become unpredictable in the daily experience of a child with Autism they may seek solace within the predictability and control provided by engaging in repetitive behaviors such as asking repetitive questions. In essence asking repetitive questions becomes a form of coping strategy for times of stress and uncertainty, they achieve this by using repetitive questioning to impose their own sense of predictability and stability into their experience. When others respond to the repetitive questions as desired it helps to provide a sense of safety or comfort (albeit fleeting on occasion hence the need for repetition) for the child concerned. This type of repetitive questioning is sometimes evidenced for instance toward the end of the school day when a child may repeatedly ask “What time am I going home?” or “What time will Daddy collect me?” etc. Perhaps the child wants everything to be exactly on schedule or is eager to get home or remembers once when a parent did not turn up on time and their routine was disrupted. The concern that any one of these or countless other events may or may not come to pass is often what gives rise to some kind of repetitive behavior in these situations
Enthusiasm and Over-Stimulation: Many children with Autism have certain topics or special interests which they can become extremely passionate about and focussed upon. Asking repetitive questions can be an effective way to control the direction of a conversation; provide an opportunity to demonstrate one’s wealth of knowledge on a particular area or topic of interest or simply a way for an individual to persevere on their favored topic. This enthusiasm for discussing and asking questions relating to topics of special interest can also cause some children to become overly stimulated which in turn can increase the intensity by which they continue to pursue their repetitive questions on a particular topic. Who doesn’t like to talk about what really interests them? Combine that with an oft decreased awareness or concern for the unwritten rules of typical social interaction and it’s not too surprising that some children with Autism engage in this type of repetitive behavior
Other common reasons: Some other common explanations for this type of repetitive behavior include such things as a wish to be social; a need for attention; an attempt to mimic the conversations of others or a means of escaping, delaying or avoiding less favored situations, demands, requests or expectations. Remember that this is not an exhaustive list and the same repetitive behavior (in this case ‘engaging in repetitive questioning’) may serve different functions for different individuals and even for the same individuals at different times
For tips and strategies on coping with and reducing repetitive questions check Autism and Repetitive Questions Part 2: Reducing Repetitive Questions
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