September 27, 2020

Why do some autistic children ask the same question over and over again? I’ve seen this discussed in blog posts, along with its usual answer: The child is seeking reassurance.

This makes sense, since autistic people often struggle with “object permanence,” or the feeling that something still exists when it’s out of view. It may be helpful to write down the answer, so that we can hold it in our hands instead of in our memory.

But this only applies to questions that have been fully answered. Throughout my childhood, whenever teachers accused me of “repeating questions,” it was always because they’d missed the point of my question.

I didn’t know how to articulate the difference between the question they’d answered and the question I’d wanted them to answer, so every attempt to rephrase made me sound like a broken record.

Years later, I figured out that it helps to begin by telling people which question they did answer. This shows that I understand why they feel finished, before I circle back to the part that they missed.

I wish I’d learned this strategy as a child, but I also wish teachers had been more patient with me. What seemed like inattention was really just confusion, and what seemed like an impertinent demand was a fumbling attempt at self-advocacy.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.