Please, Stop Asking Kids this One Question

By asking, you may be inadvertently creating a situation for your child that the question is intended to avoid. 

[This entry is informed by formal education and clinical experience. An earlier version of this entry appeared on the Kid Lit Motivates Resource Blog.]

[TLDR: For the Quick Summary, please scroll to the Summary heading.] 

Read on for the explanation. 

Every parent I’ve ever met wants the best for their kid and parenting is a nonstop job. Parents work long hours, have big hearts, and push their kids to have the very best quality of life they can imagine. While working in-home with autistic kids, I always integrated family members into our sessions — they’d provide support long after I’d gone home for the night. I used my experience and training to give families the building blocks to strengthen their family ties and grow together. 

The adage is true; It takes a village

So now, it is with the best of intentions and my sincerest appreciation for our shared responsibilities that I bring something to your attention: 

There is one question we need to stop asking.

I hear The Question so frequently that I honestly wonder about its ubiquity. How did we, as a culture, land on this one question as a means to an end? 

It’s a simple and well-intentioned question that steps on its own toes, so to speak. It gets in its own way. Bites its own tongue. Circular reasons itself out of meaningfulness. Causes exactly what it’s attempting to prevent. 

In real time, I’m powerless to stop it from being asked. The Question, this one small, well-meant colloquial adult-asks-kid scenario is so annoyingly antithetical to its purpose that I’m dedicating an entire entry to it (one that has been cut down from near-6k words.) It has the opposite effect for which it is meant. It reinforces the behavior intended to be changed. 

 How is the question raised?

Setting the Scene — Scenario

Jo and I are sitting at their dining room table. Jo is 10 years old, loves to play soccer, use metallic ink pens, and is intensely passionate about narrow interests. They have been diagnosed with co-morbid learning and communication delays. I visit their house several times a week, for a few hours at a time as a “tutor” and I “teach” social skills.

To this end, I use mirroring and modeling techniques, based on the iso-principle, to artificially match their energy and affect for pairing in the relationship. (Over time, I’ll use the technique less.) For now, it helps create a friendly foundation on which to build a learning environment. It also lets me briefly assess and evaluate the appropriate direction for today’s session in particular. There are many potential activities for us, but it’s Jo’s engagement that guides the choice. The session COULD be wacky and wildly energetic, replete with games, songs, and stories. Or, like today, it could be a quiet and reserved approach. 

Opening Lines — The Lead Up

Jo is not making eye contact, their hands are down, and their shoulders are drooping. After knowing Jo a few months, I’ve come to expect the ebb and flow (aka dysregulation) of Jo’s emotions and I’ve consistently encouraged them to do what feels comfortable in any given moment.

Jo has unique social and communication needs. They‘re learning how to speak with people (not at them), how to empathize with others, and how to create friendships from incidental connections. They will practice with me, in routine and naturalistic ways, small skills that add up to big strides with me and then slowly generalized to others. My responsibility is to present the complexity of skills into easily manageable, repeatable, and quantifiable behaviors, then guide them to chain the skills together in useful, less mechanistic ways. I don’t expect Jo to learn all of these skills at once. For today, it’s okay if they can’t make eye contact. It’s okay if we sit quietly together for a few minutes without speaking, if they cannot return my greeting, or if they cannot respond to any question I ask. These are the most important skills I’m hoping to model, and we have all of our time together to practice them.

Even if Jo and I have achieved a richly engaging conversation in the past, I don’t anticipate or push for one. Jo is growing their understanding of back-and-forth social exchanges. In the meantime, I know through experience that there’s no sense in forcing them to interact. Over time, I’ll use reinforcement, repetition, role play, singing, game play, and other techniques, to teach this complex task which comes naturally to some, but not so to others.  

Enter Mom and the Question of the Ages

Le had greeted me at the door and shown me into the room where Jo waits. She stands in the doorway as Jo and I take our places at the table, hovering expectantly as many moms do. After a beat, she begins shifting her weight uncomfortably as she recognizes what I’ve mentioned: Jo’s disengagement. 

Le’s main goal for having me here is to enhance Jo’s communication abilities and the quality of their social interactions. She wants them to make friends more easily. She is very eager to see them communicate with others the way they only seem to communicate with her. Jo CAN talk, after all, but they sometimes struggle to speak genuinely with anyone other than Le. She’s concerned about their daily interactions, especially with adolescence on the horizon. I’ve done my best to educate Le to moderate her expectations. Her relationship with them will always be unique. They are actually very typical for a neurodivergent kid. These skills can take time, and it’s time we must all be ready for.

Let’s Begin — Jo and Me (and apparently, Le)

While I stack my notebooks and pull out my metallic pens, I can sense Le’s discomfort and anticipation. Jo may sense it too. It’s not helping Jo in the slightest. 

I model for Le while also seeking Jo’s engagement. I prompt Jo, softly, patiently. 

How was your day, Jo? 

Good, Jo continues looking at their lap. 

What would you like to talk about?

No response. 

I did something fun today. 

No response. 

Can I tell you about my fun day? 

They shrug. 

 In my head, I’m figuring out the path for this session. I’m using questions to provide opportunities. I’m evaluating the day’s objectives, informed by the overall communication goal and the presenting affect. Given their reserved responses, I’m planning to move to a medium with less conversation, like a worksheet, a music intervention, or a game. It will take the spotlight pressure off.

Jo turns to see Le hovering in the corner by the door. They look up at her, avoiding my gaze completely. (They are nonverbally seeking assistance.) Seeing their head turn, in the way of most well-meaning parents, Le rushes to Jo’s aid and inadvertently asks the most nonfunctional yet somehow pervasive question.

I try and signal Le not to speak, knowing the question is coming, but without rudely cutting her off, there’s nothing I can do. I silently observe Le as she, with the best intentions, reinforces Jo’s communication strife.

The Question that Answers Itself

“Did you tell Lori about … ?” Le prompts.

It’s a common phrasing. Meaningless in this situation, yet we use it regularly. It’s an error that sets my teeth on edge. It does nothing to help the child break out of their shell or learn appropriate interactions. It doesn’t enhance the therapeutic relationship. It doesn’t model natural conversation and it doesn’t encourage social exploration. But, as I’ve said, Le’s mistake is a mistake we all make from time to time with kids. Le already knows the answer, and Jo knows she knows. 

You Already Know 

Whatever follows the question doesn’t matter.

Did you tell Lori about the field trip you went on yesterday?

Did you tell Grandma what happened over the weekend?

Did you tell your friend where we went after football practice? 

Did you tell your teacher about your new shoes?

Did you tell [person][event/thing/action]?

And so on. 

Varying Responses with Only One Result

Did you tell Lori about the field trip?

 Jo, like most kids, responds by sitting quietly without responding. Jo, in a difficult moment, has successfully passed the communication reins to Le, and will now have Le lead the conversation. 

Jo looks self-conscious. The thing they didn’t mention is red ink on the page. Jo hasn’t said anything at all, their mom knows it, and yet, their mom has put them in a situation to either say “no” or not respond at all. The question does not open a line of dialog — it creates an end point. 

To incorporate the framing of the question, I turn my body toward her saying something to the effect of, “Jo will tell me when they’re ready,” and then turn back to Jo and ask a direct, potentially related, question. Whatever I ask will be open-ended enough to allow Jo the agency of responding, as Le has already removed the agency of choosing a subject. I might ask something like: 

Jo, where did you go on your field trip?

Who was on the field trip with you? 

Did you take a bus with your class, or ride in a car? 

Unfortunately for Jo, Le feels tired of Jo not responding, and wants to show them what to do. Before I can leave space and ask Jo a direct question, Le jumps in again: 

 You went to the museum, right? Tell Lori about the museum, and what your teacher said.” 

In every case that I’ve seen using the “Did you tell…” framing followed by an additional piece of information, every kid, just like Jo, repeats back whatever was said and falls silent again. Jo: 

We went to a museum.

This isn’t a natural conversation, and Jo doesn’t even have a starring role in it. I can ask whatever I want now, Jo will likely only shrug or look back to Le. Over time, Jo and Le have adapted this likely unconscious routine, where Jo has difficulty initiating, Le fills in the blanks, and Jo parrots back a response enough to appease me, or any adult Jo is expected to talk to. 

An Easy Mistake with Lasting Consequences

In an effort to persuade Jo to begin talking, Le is fabricating a situation for them to rely on another person to start talking. 

In this instance, Le is not teaching them to speak. She is speaking for Jo in a somewhat condescending way. Perhaps Jo doesn’t want to discuss the field trip with me, or perhaps there’s something else on their mind. Maybe they were waiting on a better time to bring it up, or maybe they just didn’t want to talk at all. Le has removed Jo’s agency, likely in response to their own discomfort with our mutual silence.

It’s completely well-intentioned. It’s also detrimental. Le may be the person who saves her friends from awkward conversations at cocktail parties, but her child is also relying heavily on her to do so every day. 

If you’re not sure why “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is bad, here are 4 glaring issues I’ve seen in practice. 

1. “You KNOW I didn’t”

“Did you tell…?” No, and you know it! Le knows Jo has not told me this story, she’s been standing there the whole time! In no way does this resemble a natural, conversational style. Issue 1: Modeling Unnatural Interaction 

2. Insinuating “You should/could have mentioned…”

“Did you tell…?” In natural conversational style, the way most of us would respond to being asked this question would be to say “No I didn’t tell…” followed by actually telling or giving a reason why we haven’t told yet. 

Jo doesn’t have a natural conversational style; it’s why they’re working with me. By asking this, Le is expecting Jo to have mastered this part of dialog we take for granted, insinuating they should have mentioned the thing, and holding Jo to a test they can likely at this stage only fail. Issue 2: Setting the Bar Too High While Simultaneously Acknowledging It’s Unreached

3. “Don’t put me on the spot!” 

The self-awareness required to answer the question correctly is almost always accompanied by feelings of shyness, discomfort, or poor self-esteem. Le put Jo on the spot to discuss something they picked, and does so repeatedly on a regular basis. After this interaction with me, Jo typically lashes out in anger, at agreed upon boundaries or at themselves.

“Did you tell…?”

“Man, why didn’t I think of telling them about that?” or “I didn’t want to mention that — but now I guess we have to talk about it.”

Issue 3: Creating Feelings of Inadequacy or Poor Self-Esteem

4. “What do I do now?” 

“Did you tell…?” is a prompt that reinforces the dependent relationship, and the more it’s used, the more deeply it’s entrenched in their interactions. Jo will wait to be prompted by Le to speak, and will rely on Le for the appropriate topic in any given moment. What will Jo do when Le is not around? Perhaps, lead the conversation alone, but in my experience, if this is a routine occurrence, Jo will clam up or wait to be directed when Le is not around. And who will Jo take prompts from? Potentially, anyone. Issue 4: Conditioning Unwanted Behavior

Show, Don’t Tell

Every adult who interacts with Jo has a responsibility to model natural conversation, so that Jo is able to begin to implement what they learn in our sessions. If Le feels like she must jump in, she can say to me, “Jo went on a field trip today. Maybe they’ll tell you about that when they’re ready.”  

Jo’s responsibility is to communicate to the best of their ability, whatever that may be today. They do not need to make me feel comfortable, to act outside of their nature perform for me. They may or may not be aware that communication is even expected, which is completely and totally okay. 

It’s my responsibility to show and not tell how I start conversations, what topics are good jumping-off points, and the mechanisms by which our language is figurative, inferential, casual, and anticipatory.

Recapping the Question Not to Ask

When asking “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you are inadvertently and with the best of intentions: 

  1. Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
  2. Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
  3. Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
  4. Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings

An Addendum for Minimally Verbal Children

“Minimally Verbal”, or occasionally “Nonverbal”, is the descriptive term therapists use for those who use functional language minimally (if at all).

The Question is Still Problematic

For the minimally verbal, “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is potentially even more detrimental. For functionally verbal children like Jo, the question is problematic for all the reasons listed above. For minimally verbal children with difficulties processing or understanding language, the question reinforces the wrong idea. In this instance, following

Did you tell Lori we went to the park?

 will frequently be answered with either an incorrect answer or an echo.

Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “Yes.” No, you didn’t. Tell Lori we went to the park. 

Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “the Park.” 

The responses are not functional. The child doesn’t understand what is being asked. In most cases, parents then respond positively — 

 “The park.” “Yes! That’s right! We went to the park!”

Functionally, the child sees a happy parent and hears praise. The child will now be conditioned to respond the same way following each “Did you” question. 

Did you eat lunch? “Yes. Eat lunch.” 

Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes.” 

Did the lunch person help you with your lunchbox? “Lunchbox.” 

Did you know you forgot your lunch? “Yes.” But did they know? 

It is truly amazing to watch as minimally verbal children begin to process language with more specific intervention. For some, with exposure to more concise and deliberate language patterns, start they begin to parse through sentence structure and notice jokes, inference, etc. Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes………Noooooo….” Their faces light up with an inkling of confidence and a dawning of understanding. Not everyone will get to this point of understanding, however. 

If you believe a minimally verbal child is either repeating the last word or responding yes or no without truly understanding to a Did you question, remove the prompt from your vocabulary until the child has more of an understanding of Yes/No, Present/Past, and until “You did, You didn’t” is more readily understood.

Other Suggestions for Avoiding the “Did You” Question

  1. Give the therapist or teacher a head’s up. Prior to the session, email/call/text, out of the child’s earshot, and give the details about the child’s day. A good therapist will hear that a child was excited to buy new shoes and will guide the conversation naturally in that direction to allow the child the opportunity for success — if they want to, are able to, and feel comfortable doing so.
  2. Write it down with your child! For children with communication deficits, a small bullet journal of potential conversation topics can go a long way. Each night, have the child think back to what was notable about the day — trips, events, funny moments, fights, whatever they might want to talk about. Write a small reminder for each, or draw a small picture, and then get in the habit of having that book available during the session and beyond. The act of reflecting on a regular basis will help the child to understand what is expected when someone asks “What did you do today?” or “What do you want to talk about?” 
  3. If you feel you must prompt, then change up the question. Give a gentle verbal reminder that does not begin with “Did you tell…” There are a lot of ways to do this. Use names and speak plainly so it is clear who is talking to who and ask questions that lead in a specific, but open direction, rather than yes/no. 

Lori, yesterday Jo and I went shopping.

Jo, Lori wants to hear about your new shoes.

Lori, you have GOT to hear about this. Jo, tell Lori about our trip to the mall.

Jo, it looks like Lori is wearing new sneakers — you and Lori have that in common. What can you ask her about her sneakers? 

These prompts aren’t ideal because they still create boundaries to Jo developing their own natural conversational style, but these prompts are infinitely better than the defeating “did you” prompt.

4. Simply, let it go. That’s right. Just let it go. Let the therapist work. Let the child make progress. Let the moment proceed all on its own. Let everyone sit in what is perceived to be an uncomfortable silence. What made your child excited yesterday, may currently not have the same effect. It was a special moment for the two of you, but not necessarily something to talk about. Perhaps once the session is over, the child will point out that special thing, or wait for the therapist to notice. 

If there’s no way to prompt the therapist privately or prompt your child in an open-ended manner, ask yourself — how necessary is my intervention in this moment? Can I let this go? Typically, yes, yes you can.


  1. Prompting a child with the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is not a functional conversation starter. 
  2. It may actually be creating a major problem in the child’s developing communication skills. 
  3. By asking the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you may be: 
  • Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
  • Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
  • Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
  • Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings

4. Instead, replace “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” try: 

  • Contact the people the child is going to be talking to ahead of time, so they know what to ask about directly.
  • Help the child keep a bulleted or pictorial reflection journal as a conversational assistant.
  • Use a gentle, different verbal reminder, and be open to the child’s answer even if it isn’t on your intended topic.
  • Let the topic go. 

No promises, but…

Jo is a special kid. They’re gifted in their own way. Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes very engaging. You may not even know what they are capable of. If you let them develop without prodding, you’ll be amazed at the potential they have. Trust me when I tell you, it will be worth the wait when you hear him learn new skills, gain confidence, and begin to engage others with ease. 

I would love to hear your comments, questions, additions, or anecdotes.

Leave a line below or share this post with someone who may benefit.

There’s Something About Lori.

There is always little doubt for most people who meet me that I am… different. Statistically and by all accounts, it’s true, I’m different. Finding out what makes me different has been a lifelong pursuit, and I finally, after 30 years, have it figured out.

There’s an insurmountable distance that exists between me and other people. I’ve known about, sensed it, felt it as far back as I can remember. I was always aware that I was set apart, different, odd, off…but as a kid I never knew what it was.

(Why do we cite our childhood knowledge as though it holds some great key to our future potential? We may have asked great questions, but we likely didn’t have many correct answers then. We likely still don’t. As a kid, I probably understood this better than I do now.)

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Whatever made me different was the cause of the distance.

As a studious observer of human behavior (in retrospect, that says a lot), I went through phases of understanding. I did everything I could to label my difference, alter it, address it, and hopefully, find ways to get closer to people. What made me different from everyone else?

I was unlike the others because I was…

  • tall.

I towered over my peers for a time, but at 5’9″ the height difference wasn’t really the difference. We put so much weight in height as children. Adults make such a big deal out of it. It was just my earliest understanding of the world.

  • smarter than average.
  • too pretty.

These last two were observations made by my parents when I started asking them for the answer. As neither my mom nor my dad had close friends, they didn’t seem to be the best ones to be giving advice on the matter. People like smart, pretty people, don’t they?

  • not dressing like other girls.

Oh, this had my attention for years. In an upper middle class neighborhood with working middle class parents, designer tags were coveted and, with extreme rarity, procured from second-hand shops.

I was aware of the financial difficulties of spending several hours’ pay on a sweatshirt, especially one that made you a walking billboard, but I thought wearing it might make me fit in. One Christmas, I put nothing on my list except for this very particularly chosen sweatshirt from A&F, maroon with white lettering, expecting no other gifts but this suburban peer uniform. I received a bright red Champion sweatshirt — before Champion was retro-chic — along with a ton of other gifts, and a lecture on the importance of not becoming a shill to corporate advertising. Merry Merry.

I went through a phase where I did everything I could to dress strangely, thinking it was …I don’t know, punk or something. That didn’t help either. Just ask the other cheerleaders, MY TEAMMATES, who shunned me.

It was never the clothing, despite my best childhood and teenage guesses. Even when I was able to finally adjust my wardrobe the way I wanted, spending my first two full-time working paychecks on a Brand New Me, I was left with the Same Old Feeling of Otherness.

Image by Michael Püngel from Pixabay

Maybe I was different because I was…

  • not hanging with the cool kids.

How could I be distant from my peers because I’m distant from my peers? Social invitations are like dominos. I believed if I got invited to one more party or sleepover or special event, maybe, just maybe, I’d be invited to the next one. Maybe this time, they’d make me one of the group.

It never happened. I got my hopes up countless times for nothing. There would be no Babysitter’s Club for me. I was even bullied by kids in the DRAMA CLUB, who are always portrayed to be so welcoming of every misfit and reject…except for whatever my problem was.

  • not as wealthy as those in my neighborhood.

This would stay with me through my college years. I believed I was different, in part, because I was working 3 jobs to pay for textbooks for my 18 credit semesters, so I could graduate in 4, instead of 4.5, years, so I could quickly get a job and start paying back what many of my peers were being gifted on their birthdays, holidays, and graduation days. In a capitalist society, cash is king. My busy schedule might have caused me to turn down a hangout or two, but it wasn’t my lack of funds that made me different.

I made it my mission to save up for culturally relevant things, while militantly demanding financial independence from my parents. I’d never have the kind of scratch to get into fancy clubs or go on beachside vacations-not like I’d want to-not really.) So I flipped the money script.

There were plenty of people who didn’t value wealth like that, and maybe I could fit with them. I sought out the cheapest way to get a usable phone and still pay the least for my monthly plan. I bragged about my $10 purses and the pencil case I’d been using since grade school. I scrounged and saved. I flipped the money script. I was frugal, but that wasn’t enough to fit in either.

Whatever the difference was, it had nothing to do with economics.

By Free-Photos by Pixabay

Maybe the reason I felt apart from my peers was because I was…

  • suffering greasy hair, bangs or no bangs, an inability to tan, not as skinny as a model, and had other cosmetic concerns.

It turns out you can combat greasy hair by using sulfate-free shampoo and giving yourself a week of oily misery. Bangs are a nightmare to keep shapely and to grow back out. That’s a common concern, though. As far as my inability to tan, sure, I hated looking pasty and splotchy in the sun for 5 months out of the year, but is that really a reason I couldn’t keep a friendship going? My weight fluctuated wildly but never really gave me any peace. Even while I lamented these parts of myself, I knew that whatever was putting space between me and my peers, it was bigger than physical appearance.

  • raised by tough, but loving parents.

This is something most teens go through, I think, so it couldn’t be the thing that made me different. The fact that my parents had no interest in friendship, however, keeping only distant pen-pals and work friends on their lists — that should have been a clue.

  • prone to vomiting and other nervous stomach conditions.

This one likely did set me apart, but as I’d learn later, it was only another facet of the reason I am different. One grand and sincere apology to anyone who ever sat near me or invited me to a party, and was then disgusted by the results. And let me assure one person in particular, I did not throw up on your mother’s brand new leather boots on purpose, but really, who has kids chop up onions to make their own lunch at a birthday party in a poorly ventilated room? Seems like a disaster waiting to happen, and that disaster was nausea.

The thinking continued.

For years, I consulted with peers and professionals. I started seeing therapists, who assured me I was imagining the distance between me and those I wanted to befriend. Socializing with me became a giant mysterious jack-in-the-box — turn the crank, listen to my off-key tune, and wait for the wrong thing to shoot out of my mouth and scare the person across from me.

What did the people say? I was someone who…

  • thinks too much, talks too much, expects too much, falls for anything, uses too much sarcasm, is way too passionate, is way too driven, annoys the hell out of everyone, criticizes everyone, is unpredictably attractive one minute and unattractive the next, has unreasonable expectations, and is too smart for my own good.

These are all things I was told when I asked for advice. I took Every Single Opinion to heart. I considered. I adjusted, calibrated, overcompensated and recalibrated, and still… the differences remained. The distance between myself and the people around me loomed.

I carried this weight within me. It chipped away at me. I’d think I had the answer, change something or sacrifice something, and yet, the weight of the question was with me endlessly.

Image by Laterjay Photography from Pixabay

I was definitely…

  • in possession of a pattern-loving brain that seeks out differences.

Ah ha! Wait, no, other people are pattern-seeking too. That’s not the difference.

But by this point in my self-discovery, I was starting to see a significant pattern and I was making strides at socializing…

The people I was closest with, most attracted to, able to almost bridge the divide with — they were all autistic, or had been labeled autistic by someone and had chosen to throw off that label later.

I had a special way of communicating with autistic people, who seemed to appreciate my direct language, my analysis skills, my ability to empathize and understand their stories, my odd sense of humor. So, drumroll please…. I must go to work with them! I’d specialize in being a therapist for autistic individuals. I hadn’t found a calling, and now I had! Surely, this was thing putting distance between me and everyone else.

Photo by flockine from Pixabay

I was just a late bloomer.

No again. It was at this point that perhaps anyone other than me might have realized where this was going. Not I. I held on to this, unsettled. I remained in the dark about myself and continued to struggle.

I hit wall after wall trying to connect with people, suffering friend breakups and romantic breakups on a regular basis. I had a new best friend every 6 months, a new boyfriend about once a year. There was a frightening, sickening regularity about the cycle that I couldn’t help but notice.

Instead, I threw myself into my work and convinced myself for a time that I didn’t need anyone else, that I was just likely a loner, that I was built on a Randian philosophy, and that someday I would find my mountaintop, settle down within its most elevated peak, drink tea, and read books.

Image by Stocksnap by Pixabay

Alas, my work life was no better than my personal life. I was a competent therapist working with children with disabilities and children on the spectrum, but I couldn’t communicate the simplest things to their parents, teachers, or paras. My supervisors all gave up trying to explain to me that personal boundaries were necessary for self-care — I would take every case home with me, I carried those kids with me all the time. I lost night after night of sleep designing more and more unique interventions, games, strategies and exercises for my dwindling client pool. I was even more fun at parties as I droned on about behavioral cues and how our current system didn’t really help all the kids who needed it. So many people flew under the radar that needed additional help. So many people, like me.

Eventually I quit the field, burned out way before my time, and spent the next years trying to figure out what my life was even worth. If the herd did not want me, perhaps a culling was in order. I cut myself off. The phone never rang.

Photo by Eak K from Pixabay

It was in this time of deep isolation and despair that I found the answer, MY ANSWER, while reflecting over some of the stories I’d read and some of the teenagers I’d worked with. Like a train just leaving the station, I started writing everything I could think of that made me different, all my quirks and character traits, a much, much longer list than this essay would allow. There was a single question now, a different question, a question pounding in my mind day and night, a track that kept leading me forward.

Was I … neurodivergent?

Quickly, obsessively, and with little regard for anything else, I digested as much information on females with autism as I could. At the time, what little was known was anecdotal and nonspecific, posted in the blogs of pioneer weirdos like me. In college, I’d been taught THE RESEARCH, which I never knew was incredibly gender biased. It wasn’t that only boys were autistic. It was that for a long time boys were the only ones identified. There was an entire subset of personality traits, behaviors, and feelings that had been totally disregarded.


I finally had my answer.

Free-Photos from PIxabay

I was an incredibly verbal, socially mimicking female, obsessed with being accepted by my peers. I had trouble making and keeping social connections. I was academically gifted but somehow, intangibly, lacking. I struggled with some aspects of executive function and was savant-like in others. I had many of the same physical attributes and associated maladies. I literally fit the bill.

Once I’d accepted my label, a lot of things began to make sense.

(I know that the puzzle piece symbolism is insulting to many autistic people and I understand that. We aren’t missing anything. For me, autism was the missing puzzle piece I’d been searching for, the answer to my ceaseless questioning, the reason for the divide.)

The “atypical” label made me fit, and it fit me. It brought me to find people, entire communities of people, that I could get along with, people I could understand, people who wanted to befriend me. It helped me explain why so many of my friendships and relationships had failed, why the feedback had been so variable, why I’d lived with this obsession gurgling under the surface for decades, desperate to make itself known.

Photo by Pascal Laurent from Pixabay

I always had a sense that I was different from most people. I sit at the far end of many bell curves staring out in wonder at the standard deviations. I’d tell you about how I met my partner, how I made my first best friends, and how I’ve thrived in the knowledge, but…I diverge.