Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What to Do Instead of Asking Questions

Don't ask questions that a young child can't answer. (Please read previous post for reasons.)

I know my child can't answer the questions that I ask but can't think of what to say to my child if I don't ask questions.


  1. If you are just chatting and are only using questions to keep up a social interaction, chat about what you are doing or what your child is doing. Doing this is called self-talk and parallel talk --two great strategies for teaching language to young children although with young children who have autism, you also need to be sure you have captured your child's attention and interest and that you are demonstrating the meaning of what you are saying. Walk, walk, walk, jump! you say as you walk a puppet to the edge of the table and then jump it off to the floor. You are doing this instead of saying: What should the puppet do? Should this puppet walk? Should we make this puppet jump off the table?
  2. Do something with your child rather than ask a question to keep an interaction going. Hand your child an object. Walk your fingers up his or her arm. Sing a song. Pick him or her up and swing.
  3. If you are asking the question in order to teach your child a new word, e.g. What color is this car? then tell your child the color as in This is a blue car. You can tell your child that the car is blue in many different ways and then draw his or her attention to the color in some way. Hmmm. I want the blue car (pick it up). This is blue like my pants (put car by your blue pants). Sort colors while naming the color. Put a blue and a red paper out on the table and start to sort the blue vehicles onto the blue paper and the red vehicles onto the red paper. Blue car, Blue truck, Red truck, Red van.....
  4. If you really need information from your child that he or she has and you don't, like you want to know where a sibling is, use a form of language that your child understands, like calling out, Anna, where are you? Then say Find Anna. Remember what kind of sentences your child does understand and use these.
  5. If you think that maybe your child could answer the question but don't want to put him on the spot because most the time he or she does not seem able to answer the question, ask the Teddy Bear. Teddy, where is Anna? Make sure you look at the Teddy while asking.
  6. If your want to model both the question and the answer, you can also use the Teddy. Teddy, where is Anna? Pretend that the Teddy is talking and say Anna is in the bathroom.
  7. If you are teaching a child to make a verbal choice, hold up two items (or pictures of the items) and ask the question with visual support. Accept a reach or even eye-gaze as an answer. You want Juice not water. You looked at Juice.
There are actually thousands of other things that you can do or say to keep yourself from asking your child questions that he or she does not or can not answer. The point is to notice that your child is not answering some kinds or any kinds of questions. Assume that your child can not answer if he or she does not. There are good ways to teach children how to answer questions, but that is another blog post. Right now, just try to reduce your question asking behavior and find other ways to interact. And if you are a truly habitual question asker, make sure that you don't start making statements instead of asking questions but making all your statements actually sound like questions. You want juice?

I am sorry to tell you this, but most people, even when they really try to change this behavior, tend to still ask a lot of questions for about three weeks after trying to make the change.

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