• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Why you should never ask an Aspie, "How are you doing today?"

I don’t know if my issue with this question is related to social expectations and my reaction to making these social blunders, or if I can’t get past my literal-mindedness and need to provide answers to questions. But–if you want to stop me dead in my tracks, just ask,

“How are you doing today?”

adult aspie theory of mind in autism

My Brain Just Shut Down!

Seriously. My brain has just instantly flipped into question and answer mode. A minute ago you smiled at me, and could have just said “Hi.”
I’ve never understood why it was necessary to use this question as a greeting. If you ask me a question, I am going to answer it. After all, why would you ask something you didn’t want to know right?
My husband says that it is just a way of being polite, a way to acknowledge someone. To which my reply was, “Why can’t you just say hello, if it is just an acknowledgement?”
To those without Asperger’s this may sounds like a ridiculously silly little thing. To them, it is understood that the person doesn’t really want to know how you are doing. They just ask to be polite.
What they fail to realize is that, I do understand it is a form of social nicety. I do. I do not fail to comprehend this. But—when  I am going about my business, thinking about something, answering the telephone, making an appointment, or walking into an office to ask for something, and you ask me how I am doing. My brain shuts down.
What I was doing was interrupted with a question. I lost my train of thought, and I usually begin to answer the question. The problem is that I tend to remember too late that I wasn’t supposed to answer. The correct response is: Fine, how are you? And then continue talking as if no-one asked any questions.
My highly logical brain finds this completely illogical! To make things worse, it takes me a few seconds to rememberthat I am not being asked a question I’m supposed to answer, and many times I am left standing there feeling like a complete idiot.

Thoughts Are Interupted

My thoughts were already interrupted, my focus high-jacked, and I am beginning to formulate my answer. How amI doing today? Is it compared to yesterday, in general, or is the question about my work? Was I productive today? Crap! I’m off schedule. Wait…OH YEAH! This isn’t a real question, disregard, and pull out standard correct answer: Fine, how are you? 
Sound crazy? It makes me feelcrazy.
As some of you know a couple of weeks ago, I decided to go a professional budgeting/financial counselor to try to get my craziness in order, again. I called, left a message, and was waiting for a call back with an appointment time. When the phone rang I knew it was my call back (caller I.D. of course). I answered.
Me: Hello?
Caller: Mrs. (Aspie Writer)? This is Ms. Counselor from Counseling Services. How are you doing today?
Me: Oh…umm…ugh, yes.


Then the beating begins…


The tape player in brain started playback with voice over. You idiot! How are you doing today? Oh…umm…ugh…yes….really? You sounded like a babbling idiot. She is going to wonder what in the world is wrong with you. Maybe I should have just answered the question. I am not doing real well today, I called her. That would indicated I need help with something; therefore, I am notdoing just fine. 
Something similar to this will happens almost every time I encounter this innocent nicety. My brain flips from greeting mode, to question and answer mode. Then it takes me a few moments to realize it and switch back. By that time, I have forgotten what I was doing or going to say, and/or missed part of the conversation.
In the above example, I missed the first part of our telephone conversation because I was still stuck on the question and the inner monologue going inside my head. I completely missed what the woman said, and wound up having to make repeat it. I was then quite frustrated with myself. My brain is exhausting!


So my question is:

Why can’t you please, JUST SAY HI?

Just one innocent, little, half-baked question throws stumbling blocks in my path. Am I alone in this? Does this drive anyone else to distraction? Have you found yourself reallyanswering the question, only to realize that you were standing there going on and on and no-one cared?

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Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.