Answering Questions

I’ve noticed something interesting about the way my AD/HD guys (husband and son) answer questions. Their approach to conversation is sometimes a challenge for me, the mere “neurotypical” that I am. When I was first getting to know Scott, I would ask him questions to see how he thought and to learn more about him. I am pretty logical and sequential and so is my communication style. We didn’t know back then that Scott had AD/HD because he wasn’t diagnosed until after our son was and by then we were in our early 30’s. So it puzzled me when I would ask Scott a question and he would answer by asking me a question. This was not a matter of repeating back what I’d asked for clarification purposes, but would be a different question that could change the course of the conversation. I might ask something like, “What was your favorite vacation while you were growing up?” Scott’s response might be to ask, “Do you like to travel?” It wasn’t a matter of Scott’s evading the question, and there was still a connection with what I’d asked. It’s just that his response didn’t answer the question. Scott’s amazing brain just works in a way that allows him to connect with one topic and from that topic quickly make connections with many related thoughts that shoot off like the spokes from the hub of a bicycle wheel – only probably not as organized and predictable as the spokes. If I really needed a definitive answer, I learned to come out and say, “You can’t answer a question with a question.” This forced Scott to slow down and give me something definitive to work with so we could reach some sort of conclusion. Often he would ask me out and have no plan in mind for what we would do. I didn’t know him well enough yet to understand that he was tapped out in the planning category just by setting up an exact time to be with me. So he would pick me up, and I’d ask what he wanted to do. Then he would ask me what I wanted to do, etc. We have since learned how to communicate when I need specific information even though it still does not come naturally to Scott. I’ve noticed with my son, Josh, that he often doesn’t answer a straightforward yes/no question with “yes” or “no”. Today his dad asked him if he’d had enough pizza. Josh responded that he’d had five pieces. So, does that mean “YES, I’ve had enough,” or “NO, I’m still hungry”? I’ve learned to communicate with Josh to narrow things down for him in very specific ways and eventually I can usually pull the answer out. Sometimes with Josh it’s a matter of distractibility or making excuses rather than just saying “yes” or “no”. For example, when asked if he liked a certain movie he might give you enough information that the answer is implied even though he doesn’t come right out with it. Other times, I’m still unclear even after his response so I just have to try again and ask, “So does that mean you DID or DID NOT like it?” To me this way of communication seems like it would be much more work for Josh and Scott than just responding with a simple reply or an affirmative or negative response, but to them it is natural to answer questions in a more circuitous way. What comes naturally to us does not feel like hard work, and as long as it’s working for us that’s what we’ll tend to do.

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