Repetitive Questioning and Autism: Reducing Repetitive Questions
If you already feel you have a good understanding of repetitive questions and why Children with Autism might engage in this type of repetitive behavior keep reading.For more insight into why children with Autism ask repetitive questions first read Repetitive Questions and Autism: Understanding Repetitive Questions.
Autism and Repetitive Questions Part 2: Reducing Repetitive Questions
An overlooked but important step in reducing repetitive questions is learning how to best cope with them. Many people may be aware that repetitive behaviors in general are associated with Autism but few people without direct experience of Autism will be aware of the relationship between Autism and Repetitive Questions specifically.In particular, the extent to which repetitive questions can come to pervade an individual’s life and the impact and frustration this can cause to those who love and care for them.
Coping with Repetitive Questions
It's easy to feel like the world is against you at times and to ponder the unfairness of why you couldn't have gotten an easier deal from life but remember that you are not alone in this. Many if not all parents of Children with Autism and indeed parents of typical children experience problems, stress and frustration to greater or lesser degrees at different times in their lives. It’s quite natural to feel alone and frustrated but these experiences are more universal than you may allow yourself to think. Reminding yourself of this from time to time can go a long way in helping you cope with the relentlessness of repetitive questions
Remember too that asking repetitive questions is a normal part of human cognitive/linguistic development. Just think of all the 3 & 4 year olds out there plaguing their parents by asking (what seems like :-)) their almost incessant and repetitive 'Why this? Why that?' questions. Children with Autism tend to have a less even profile of skills development. So, you may have a child that's academically or otherwise on par with his peers but perhaps socially or emotionally more comparable to younger children. In my experience and according to many parents, this type of repetitive behavior, like many things in life does tend to improve and become more manageable as children get older. Try to focus on and remember all the things that your child has already achieved and can do. We all too quickly take for granted all that has already been accomplished. There are parents out there that would give everything to hear their child utter a single word
Difficult as it may be, having a degree of acceptance for whatever currently ‘is’ can be a very helpful attitude or perspective to hold .Just as with the trying toddler or the forgetful pensioner, this is how they are (for now anyway :-)). I realise this may not make things any easier but reminding yourself that, for the moment at least, this is the way he or she is, will help you to better manage your own frustrations as they arise. If possible, removing yourself for a brief period of time when things are particularly trying is also a helpful strategy for managing these frustrations. Getting breaks or 'me time' whenever possible can be a critical factor in your ability to cope over the long term. Where feasible you should proactively plan and schedule to facilitate for this time for yourself
Taking deep breaths - I know it may sound corny but it has a real physiological effect. Stopping and reminding yourself that this repetitve questioning behavior isn’t personal and it will pass before proceeding to take the time to focus on taking some deep, slow and conscious breaths is a simple but proven coping strategy for stilling your mind, calming your nerves and releasing your stress and frustrations of the moment
Reducing Repetitive Questions
It's important to find what works for you and your child. Factors such as your own temperament, your child's temperament, your child's verbal ability and/or comprehension skills etc. will all contribute to determining the suitability of certain strategies. Having a sense of what function repetitive questions serve for your child is however the best way to tailor what strategies to use in your situation. Perhaps you will need to employ a number of different strategies for different situations depending on the function of the repetitive questioning at the time. Below are a number of proven strategies for reducing repetitive questions.
Written Answers - Writing the answers or even the answers and their questions down and placing them somewhere your child can freely reference them (e.g. a fridge door) and be directed to them can be an extremely effective technique for managing this type of repetitive behavior. You may decide that perhaps after responding once to a given question that all further repetitions of said question within a particular time period would result in your child being directed to the written answer. Always endeavour to remain calm during these interactions and try not to let any frustration show. Give this strategy time and consistency – It works!!
Visual Schedules – Children with Autism usually have a strong visual preference or bias. Paired with the strong desire for routine and predictability means that using visual schedules that outline the day’s upcoming events or activities etc. can be extremely powerful. Knowing what, when and where things will happen can greatly reduce anxiety for many children with Autism and may consequently greatly reduce many of the anxiety driven repetitive questions that can occur
Times & Places: Setting times and places for asking repetitive questions or discussing special interests can work extremely well for children with autism that thrive on structure and predictability. Obviously you should restrict conversing about special interests outside of these scheduled times. Initially you may have to provide a high number of these opportunities but overtime you can ease back to a sustainable number of ‘special interest chats’ per day. Use visual supports such as visual schedules (outlined above) to indicate when and where these discussion times will take place across the day
Social Stories – Social stories are short stories that are used to help teach children the rules for particular social situations. Social stories follow certain rules and can be geared to the child’s individual level of understanding, using pictures if necessary. Social stories could be used to teach and remind your child both what is generally appropriate or acceptable in terms of asking questions and indeed how others may respond to being repeatedly asked the same questions. This can help develop better understanding and self control in regard to asking repetitive questions
- Communication skills training – Introduce and teach other communication strategies that will help teach your child how to better communicate. For instance; Work with a Speech Therapist or access online resources to help you develop conversation scripts that can be practised and generalised to different situations. Teach your child a number of different scripts or topics so that they may develop some reference or conversation starting points for different social situations and environments. This is more of a long term strategy but if feasible can be very worthwhile
Reversing Questions: Directing questions straight back. "So, what do you think?" "Why do you think that is?" etc. or making statements or comments that may elicit a more novel response from your child can often help to break or disrupt the repetitive questioning. Whilst sometimes doing this can put an end to the onslaught of repetitive questions it can also help to teach children with Autism accountability for their actions, in this case asking repetitive questions. This is also a good behavior strategy if you feel your child is using repetitive questions as a way of demonstrating his or her knowledge on a particular topic. In this situation you could encourage your child to more appropriately demonstrate what they know through a more functional application of their special knowledge such as doing a project or starting a journal or scrapbook on their topic of interest
Stress & Anxiety: If you feel stress or anxiety may be contributing to the repetitive questioning problem you may need to address these underlying issues directly. Perhaps changes in routine or an impending occasion or event may be causing your child undue stress – visuals can be very useful here. Predictable and established routines and visual schedules or calendars to indicate upcoming events can prove extremely useful. Remember visual schedules can be used for any time span e.g. to indicate the pieces of work or number of activities within a given teaching session, to outline the course of activities across an entire day or to indicate the upcoming events for the weeks or months ahead etc. If you feel underlying issues may be more significantly contributing to the repetitive questioning you should consider consulting a Psychologist or other health professional as well as proactively teaching your child anxiety management strategies and relaxation skills
Quick Answers: Sometimes just answering very quickly and then just moving on to a different activity or conversation topic can work well
A Final Word
What’s important is that you have a strategy or strategies to manage your child’s repetitive behavior and that you stick to them. For instance, you might decide how often you will respond to a particular question within a particular time period and then have a specific response such as ' we've spoken enough about this topic for now' which you deliver on the next occasion. You then ignore all further repetitions uttered during that particular time period.Having a set plan/strategy will facilitate consistency between the different people in your child's daily life. Note: This may not be easy and your child will usually initially respond by being more persistent and intense about his or her repetitive questioning and may even display more challenging behaviors but with time and consistency on your part the situation should greatly improve.
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