How to Ask an Autistic Person a Question Without Scaring Us

A close-up photo of a pink flower surrounded in black with text that reads: "How to ask an autistic person a question without scaring us."

Recently, I wrote about how questions make autistic people nervous. Today, I’d like to offer some tips on how to ask an autistic person without eliciting our fight or flight response. (I mean, you still might, but this should help.)

OK, here goes:

1) Make sure we are not engrossed in a task, especially if it’s a “special interest” task or one that involves intense body coordination like doing the dishes.

2) Be sure you have our attention. We don’t have to be looking right at your face, but be sure we’ve expressed that we are ready to listen to you.

3) Preface your question. “I’d like to ask you something, but it’s nothing serious.” Or, “I need to ask you a serious question. Is this a good time?”

4) Think for a minute before you ask the question. Do you really need or want to know, or are you just asking to be polite? If it’s the latter, no reason to bother. Lack of questions does not offend us. 😉

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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

5) Ask one question at a time! Rapid-fire questions are the quickest way to get our guard up and completely lose us as an audience.

6) Unless it’s an emergency, allow us to take time to think about and respond to your question.

7) Ask specific questions. “How are you?” is just too vague. Try, “Did you enjoy (insert name of movie) you went to see last night?”

8) Write your questions down. Email us or text us when you have more than one question. This gives us time to read and digest the information, so we can answer your questions properly and thoroughly.

Also, and this is very important, don’t ever feel obligated or pressured to ask us questions just to say hello. Just say “Hello” or, even better, send us a meme or photo about something we are interested in. It will likely garner a much better response.

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5 Responses

  1. Shelley says:

    Thank you so much for writing these articles, they are wonderful. I have an autustic teenager who has been masking for years and an autistic mother in law who I used to think was driving me insane on purpose. Thank you so much for helping me to build a different perspective.

  2. Dee says:

    How I wish my grandson had been diagnosed already when he came to live with us out of desperation! How I wish I’d had this information to go with the diagnosis! All of this would have made such a difference.
    Despite trying so hard to become his friends and confidantes, our relationship only went the opposite way, as it had with his own mother. By the time we got him to go for a full workup, he was “spent.” So dishonest with us, same as he had been with others for years. Texting or saying simply: “Please call as soon as you are able” will get some basic communication now that he is living on his own and has managed to find an amazing job where it sounds like a lot of others who are equally disengaged and aloof seem to be happy working.

    While there is no indication that he is staying on his anti-anxiety meds, he is living with his own decisions and knows we are just across town. At least, he didn’t run away from us. So, I suppose that should be taken with some comfort. Thanks for providing these materials. I look forward to reading much more.

  1. May 16, 2019

    […] Need to ask your autistic loved one an important question? Click on the photo below to learn how to ask an autistic person a question without scaring us. […]

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