Friday, July 6, 2012

Questions are a One-Way Street

Last week on this blog post there was a comment, or rather a question, regarding the fact that we on the spectrum seem to be able to ask a question, sometimes many questions and yet when asked a question we can lock up. I responded by saying that I'd respond on Monday so now I'll just say better late than never.

So why is this? Why are questions a one-way street? I think I covered the reasoning behind why questions are difficult for us in that post.  In my response to a comment I said, "The difference is that when asking a question I am not processing the answer. If anything I am asking so I know what will happen if..." These thoughts are happening at light speed. If I'm asked a question, however, the thought process gets kicked into light speed and my defenses get triggered. Thoughts such as, "Okay, I was thinking about X but they are asking about Y so why are they asking this? If I answer, how will they respond? Do I know the answer? Is the answer wrong? What do they want from me?"

The line of questions in my brain that get triggered by a question is near infinite and I can very easily lose track of time as I process what is going on. Often times I will give a non-answer (such as "I don't know") or other times I will simply say "no" because when one answers with no the odds of a follow up question decrease greatly. And that's what is going through my mind; how can I end the line of questioning as soon as possible.

Now why is being asked a question difficult but we often will have no qualms about asking a question? First, I want to say that if you are a parent or teacher it is critical to realize that sometimes the amount of time that has gone into thinking about the right question to ask can be long. Often times, when I was in school, it might take me a few hours, or maybe a full day to finally ask the question I wanted to ask. Sometimes a question just happens, and other times I have to process the ramifications that will come from asking a question.

Also, when one asks a question, there is a bit more control of the situation. In my life I asked two type of questions; one type was questions of fact such as, "who was?," "when was?," "how did?," "who won?," or "why did?" All these questions are like a narrow one-way street because not much can deviation can occur, and an unexpected response is highly unlikely. I also asked a second type of question and this is something so many parents at my presentation have asked me why this is. The question in question (ha! I had that line planned for three paragraphs... I crack myself up sometimes) is any question that starts with, "What happens if..."

I'm sure many parents have had to endure the barrage of "what if" questions and I know my parents got a daily assault of those questions. I ask these questions because I really want, no, need to know. If my mind is wondering about something I am trying to work it out and if I don't feel secure, safe, or if I just really need to know the answer, I will bring up this question. To the person being asked, it may get annoying after a while, but when I asked that type of question my brain was working 110% at understanding whatever it was that I needed to know.

Sometimes these questions are highly relevant and critical to know, other times they may seem irrelevant to everyone except the person asking it. I will never forget the 2004 Olympics when I asked a "what if" question regarding the marathon event. I asked my dad, "Dad, looking at the course there is no barrier between spectators and the runners so what happens if a person were to tackle the leader?" My dad laughed it off and said, "That's never going to happen." During dinner, an hour later, I heard the announcer on the television in the other room with a voice that expressed great shock. Of all the events for an announcer to raise his voice, I wouldn't expect a marathon to be one that this would happen so I rushed into the room to see what had happened and sure enough, the leader had been taken out by a person not in the event. Never before had I let out such a "Ha ha ha! See..." than at that point in time.

The bottomline with questions is this; when asked a question my brain has to process information that currently isn't being thought about. Deviating from the now isn't easy. When I am the one asking the questions I am usually asking about something that my mind is thinking of right then and there, or perhaps it is something that I've been thinking about for some time so in the end it comes down to processing.

I hope this answered the question that was asked on last week's blog. For those of you in the Saint Louis area you can see me on KPLR Channel 11 Saturday night in the 7PM hour. It is either a 30 or 45 minute segment so be sure to tune in. If you aren't in the area I do think that eventually the entire program is available to view online.


  1. Thank you so much for the explanation. It is helping me in creating my lesson plans for fall. (Teaching students with ASDs computing)

  2. Ha! I asked the exact same 'what if...' question about cycling events. I think in my case we were watching the Tour the France... My mum shrugged, said that she didn't know and that the cyclist probably would just have huge bad luck and that the person who did it would probably face a lot of police.

  3. Aaron is there a way of stating something rather than asking a question that you will process as a question? For instance, I know that "How are you?" locks you up. If I said instead, "I was wondering how last night went for you." Would you still lock up?

    1. I think I would just the same because the question is still a personal opinion and I would have to think, "okay, what did I do last night? Was it all right? What is the criteria for being good/great/bad/normal?"

    2. I was thinking about this question and also discussed it with my sister. I don't think this problem is totally avoidable, but for me personally it helps to specify the question in another way.
      Like, when I think how last night went, this happens in my mind: "Well, I had a nice dinner, which was great, and I had fun with my friends, but at the same time I got sick and I tried a mock exam for my driving test which didn't turn out right... In the MIDDLE of the night I had a lot of trouble sleeping and found something that upset me, but then my friend cheered me up and we had some laughs..."
      So yea, if last night was good? No idea. Parts of it was?

      So what did I think of that would help (not fix) it? Ask about a part of my life, instead of a time. For example: "How are your friends doing?" or "How is your health at te moment/yesterday/last week?" or "How is your mood at the moment?" These kind of questions. Those are way easier to answer for me, since it narrows it down a lot more. I have a lot of things happening in 1 time slot, but a specific thing from my life in a specific time slot already narrows it down better.
      I understand, though, that this is a difficult thing to think about all the time with every question you ask... It can also lead to having to ask a lot of questions to get the big picture, which might feel like an interview. So I don't think this answer is perfect... I hope it helped though.

  4. Thank you, Aaron and Issha, for your answers. It helps.