Many children on and off the autism spectrum engage in repetitive questioning. It can be frustrating, exhausting and difficult to decrease.
Repetitive questions may serve a variety of functions for a child:
- a need for more information
- a need to escape a boring or unpleasant situation
- a need to avoid transitioning to a new situation or maybe the questioning serves to make the transition more comfortable
- a need to control the situation and keep it within his/her level of understanding
- fascination with predictable answers
- a need to make the world clear, consistent, and predictable
- a way to cope with anticipation
- a way to get attention
The first step in addressing the repetitive questions issue is to investigate the underlying cause. Once that is known, the next step is to determine the type of strategy needed. Some students will need a behavioral strategy and some students will need a cognitive behavioral strategy.
One Lunch Buddy in the group today needed a combination of behavioral and cognitive strategies.
We reviewed Superflex’s Very Cool Five-Step Power Plan for defeating the Queen of Wacky Questions.
The Queen of Wacky Questions gets people to forget the hidden rules about questions. She can make people ask questions that they already know the answer to, questions that are not on topic, or just too many questions!
Next, we read the social story Questions, Questions, Questions (a social story from http://www.thewatsoninstitute.org). The story provides strategies for asking questions, such as, “Before I ask a question I have to think very hard, to see if I already know the answer”.
Finally, I explained to this student that he would be allowed to ask 3 wacky questions during our hour together. Using this card
a circle was colored in each time he asked a wacky question. It all worked like a charm! He was so aware of his comments and questions. At the end of the hour, he had asked two wacky questions. Next time, he will be allowed to ask two wacky questions and so on. I think because he was very tuned in, his general questions were better and on topic and so appropriate. Happy Happy Happy!
With some students, there is comfort in knowing that if they ask a question an adult will answer. Sometimes that becomes the script – same question same answer. In that case, change the script. Telling the student that you will only answer the question once and give no further verbal response is also a behavioral technique that works. The focus is on not rewarding repeated questioning with “verbal answers”. Helping students to learn more about Social Wonder and World Wonder questions and then practicing asking those types of question helps them to be flexible thinkers. Positive self-talk, “I will think more about my questions when I talk to others”, works well too.
Learn more about cognitive behavioral strategies, Superflex and the Unthinkables at http://socialthinking.com.