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.
- Repetitive Questions and Autism: Understanding Repetitive Questions
Children with Autism often ask repetitive questions.Understanding why they might do this can often be the first step in helping to cope with and reduce this behavior
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Rob Winters (author) on October 03, 2014:
Thanks Emilia, glad you liked it.
Emilia Riera from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 02, 2014:
Good insight into a challenging interaction.
Emilia's Autism Pages
Rev. Svend la Rose on March 10, 2013:
Have you considered that the autistic person might either not believe the original answer, or be dissatisfied with its oversimplicity?
Rob Winters (author) on July 26, 2012:
You are most welcome JT.I'm glad i could be of some help.Thanks for your thoughtful comments and best of luck with your future work and research.
JT Walters from Florida on July 25, 2012:
I think you have been very clear. My work has primarily with limited speech and non verbal. I could see the predictability as an issue for repetitive questions as a component of the OCD side of Autism. You have been exceptionally clear and exceptionally helpful.
I don't think our findings are conclusive and that we need to conduct a Step wise Equation Model inorder to determine the most relevant reasons self stimulatory behavior is reduced when intraverbal communication is taught.
Thank you and best regards.
Rob Winters (author) on July 25, 2012:
I'm not sure if we are getting our wires crossed slightly JT but i will try to respond to your comments.
Yes many children with Autism can and certainly do engage in speech and making speech sounds for self stimulation and i can see how a lack of language could contribute to compensatory self stim behavior like rocking etc. but in relation to children with Autism asking repetitive questions,for the majority of the cases i have ever worked with over the years the primary function or motivation for engaging in asking repetitive questions tends to be more related to factors such as a need for reassurance or predictability in a child's day to day routine or a coping strategy for limited communication skills or a rigidity about keeping a conversation centred on a topic of special interest etc rather than for sensory/self stimulatory reasons.
That does not mean that there are not children engaging in some form of'speech' as a mode of self stimulation (indeed i know a number of children that do just that) but my experience does not indicate that repetitive questions (as opposed to speech/speech sounds in general, which admittedly is not an area i have researched) as being one of the more common (relative to other forms of repetitive behaviors) behaviors that are engaged in for the purposes of self stimulation, not if referrals are anything to go by.If i understand you correctly i can absolutely see how what you're referring to could be quite evident in younger and less verbal children.
Glad to hear about the positive findings of your research JT.It's great to be able to make a difference like that.It does not surprise me that increasing communication skills (e.g.new intraverbals) would be correlated with a reduction in apparent self stimulatory behavior but it does highlight the issue of behavior function. If a child has very limited communication skills then their repetitive behaviors may be serving multiple functions - self stimulation,communication, expression of frustration etc so an increased ability in any of these areas may be associated in an overall reduction in repetitive behaviors.Maybe there's an element of semantics at play but it strikes me that if an increase in communication skills is associated in a reduction of self stimuatory behavior then surely a proprtion of said self stimulatory behavior was indeed functioning for reasons other than purely self stimulation. I hope i've understood you correctly and that what i'm saying makes sense.You've certainly made me put my thinking cap on :-)
JT Walters from Florida on July 24, 2012:
Odd as a person who has worked with children with Autism and in the field of behavioralism, I thought the general consencus was speech is self timulatory behavior and the lack of language in children with Autism produces a compensatory self stim behavior like rocking. It is probably an area of research that needs further investigation but I would love to hear your thoughts.
We have just completed a research study on teaching Intraverbals to children with Autism and found that they have very high receptive language even when non-verbal. After learning new intraverbal language we saw a decrease in self stimulatory behavior.
Rob Winters (author) on July 24, 2012:
Hi JT. Self stimulatory or sensory driven behaviors are indeed very common amongst children with Autism but from a behavioral standpoint they are often viewed as the last explanation, only when other behavioral explanations have been ruled out.
However, as with any repetitive behavior it's certainly possible that some children are getting some degree of self stimulation by asking repetitive questions. In a similar way to how people are getting sensory feedback from humming or repeatedly singing the same line or two of a song. Self stim behaviours are intrinsically driven so if a child was asking repetitive questions regardless of the context or the responses been provided by others or indeed even in the absence of other people then this would be strong evidence that in those situations the repetitive questioning is primarily a self stimulatory behavior.
So whilst it may indeed be a factor that contributes to the perseverance of this behavior it's not usually the primary reason it occurs but certainly shouldn't be overlooked as a factor.
JT Walters from Florida on July 24, 2012:
I was wondering if you considered some repetitive questioning as a self stimulatory behavior?
Rob Winters (author) on July 23, 2012:
Thank you very much tecygran. I felt it was quite a specific topic but worthy of attention.I'm glad you found them useful and hope others will find them helpful too.Thanks for the votes and share - always appreciated :-)
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 23, 2012:
Thank you for these two articles on repetitive questioning Rob Winters-- I realize that I have encountered this in various children and not realized what it was about. I was very impatient and probably perceived as unkind in my reactions. I have learned something important from your writing. I look forward to reading more. Voted up, useful and interesting, and shared!