• 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.


  1. Dear Jeannie,

    I just found a German translation of your text here:
    As far as I can tell, the translation is well done 🙂

    And this is my comment:
    Oh how do I know this … especially how much those “I-do-not-want-any-answer”-questions tear me out of my center/concentration and leave me back helpless/overcharged/bugged out/feeling lonely.
    Therefore I try as often as possible to start the conversation myself, just saying “Hello my dear xy, how nice to see you!” (I have been doing so for many years, long before I knew about any diagnosis)
    However, in case THE QUESTION “How are you?” nevertheless is asked, I tend to reply “Thanks for your interest in my personal well-being. Do you have just a three hours time to listen to an honest answer?”

    Best wishes from Germany
    Stay strong & happy 🙂

    • If you are unable to recognize social norms why can’t you just train yourself to say fine thanks for asking. ?

  2. Pingback: Warum Du niemals einen Aspie fragen solltest, “Wie geht’s Dir heute?” | Blogger ASpekte

  3. Yes, it happened to me. Not only in association with courtesy phrases but also when I was about to go to an important meeting for which I prepared myself with answers and certain topics I wanted to talk about. While the conversation already started, I’m oftentimes still thinking about what I’d like to ask and that I don’t forget it. It may help to take notes with me but then – still – I’ll have to look at my notes from time to time, and while looking, I can’t follow the conversation. If something unexpected is asked or said to me, I’m stopped dead on my tracks. Either I won’t say anything or I say something without thinking it through at this moment. I need to think answers through long BEFORE the conversation will start. Not during a conversation. Later on, it may happen that I’ll change my opinion and the other person might end up to be upset “in our conversation you said something different. What’s valid now? It would be nice if I could rely on what you said face to face.”

    The issue is I can’t even rely on what I said during the conversation especially if I had to answer an unexpected question.

  4. lost in translation

    I am 43, living in japan. I get this all the time from adults practicing english. I have Asperger’s and get lots of his question 🙁 As a child I’d actually answer, ” how am I doing what ?” And I still think that.

    Another frustration is like when I’m on the allotment, digging potatoes, and someone asks, ” what are you doing”. And I just think, “digging potatoes, what does it look like!?” So I just say I’m digging potatoes, but it feels so silly.

    Or, when I’m eating something and people ask, “oh, do you like that?” And I have wondered if they really imagine that I’m eating it, but don’t like it.

    Finally, relating to japan, I often eat with chopsticks. I need to. Almost always, someone will say, “can you use chopsticks?, great!”

    The answer should be, “yes, I’ve been practicing”. (While smiling thanks). But my head is filled with wonder, and I tend to feel confused. The answer I usually give is possibly a stronger than needed, and confused sounding “yes…?”

  5. How can NTs possibly not realise that asking a question-requiring-no-answer as a form of greeting is a ridiculous way to go about life? It confounds me every time, in fact I only found out it wasn’t an actual question very recently in my life – and I’m 33 – so haven’t had the chance to try and ‘train’ myself not to answer it. I’m not sure if I’m going to try to either, if they don’t want an answer they shouldn’t ask a question, it’s just plain common sense. And the whole asking whilst walking past thing, that does my head in!

    Yes, you do sum up what it’s like very well.

    • Yes that walking past while asking how I am doing drives me bonkers! I am usually still trying to figure out who this person is and why they are talking to me, then figuring out how I am doing…then oh oops, don’t answer that…hey…where’d they go????

  6. Pingback: A blog about the life of an adult with autism | Aspie Writer

  7. To extend my previous comment, there needs to be more awareness for the general public to understand ASD/Asperger’s and the implications.

    • I couldn’t agree more! There is so much misinformation flying around out there. I run into people all the time that have heard of Asperger’s, unfortunately, latest news is not helping matters, but they really do not know a single “correct” thing about the condition.

      I told my son’s pediatrician last month during his autism screening that we had a family history of autism. When he asked who, I told him I am autistic. His answer, “You???”

      The man looked at me cross-eyed with eyebrows raised like that couldn’t possibly be true. Really? What do you think happens to autistic children??? The grow into autistic adults! Frustrating.

  8. This is an interesting blog. I think I have this diagnosis. Some one needs to talk about how difficult it is for African-Americans to get this diagnosis. People just think you are super articulate when in fact you have the condition. I had and still have similar problems when answering questions such as these. A question I don’t like is “How’s life?” It is extremely vague.

    I think I am going to like using this site to vent.

    *This is not the same anonymous who posted previously FYI.

  9. My sentiments EXACTLY and as someone said above, just as bad but I think worse is: “What’s up?” That totally paralyzes me and my husband does that all the time. Or another one: “What are you planning to do today?” I may have a zillion plans but am so overwhelmed can’t say a darn thing. Thought it was some deep-seated problem with me like total idiocy. Glad to hear I am in good company. Only found out I was Aspie 2 years ago at the ripe old age of 61. Thanks for posting!

    • Hi Ellen,

      No worries, it is definitely NOT a deep-seated problem like total idiocy! LOL You made me laugh, I used to thing the same thing. Now, I am thinking it may be everyone else’s idiocy instead of my own. I mean, really, why are you asking me a question you do not want the answer to? And, I’m the one that is not normal! 🙂

  10. I have severe social anxiety so I’m never sure how to respond to people, especially small talk and greetings. “Hi, how are you?” tends to leave me stumped. I have to pause and get my answer together but then my mind wonders what’s the point in asking when everyone is just supposed to say “fine”. My response is usually “Hi…..umm…I’m okay…yeah….”
    What baffles me the most is why people ask while walking past you. By the time they’ve said it they’ve almost past me so I don’t know if I should just say “Hi”. Because I’m stuck wondering what to do, I either end up saying nothing or making a small squeak. Then I’m standing there trying to figure it all out and I spend the rest of the week worrying I was rude.
    “What’s up?” as a greeting is the worst. I have absolutely no idea what people want in response to that! Is it asking how you are? What have you been doing? or is it another rhetorical one?

    • LOL People used to ask, “What’s wrong with you?” when I was younger because of that question! I guess I would literally look “up” when asked. Thankfully, I grew out of that I no longer look up I just don’t answer “What’s up?” at all. I can’t. What possible answer could I give? The ceiling, the sky…what?

      Another one that is bad for me is… “What are you doing?” It is the first question I ask when I call someone on the phone…but I AM REALLY ASKING! But, when someone calls me and starts the conversation with “What are you doing?” I tell them exactly what I am doing whether they want to know or not. They asked, so they are going to find out! LOL

  11. Every single time. It’s crazy. Why ask me a question if you don’t want me to answer it? Jeepers.
    I’m 21, and I didn’t realize you’re not supposed to answer it until not that long ago. Not my fault if they don’t realize how questions work…*sigh*

  12. I usually answer, “Awake” to that question. It covers what they want to know, and what I want to say. It also sounds deep and Buddhist to those who go that direction.

  13. What I wish people would say with this question is “short answer please” or ” I’m really asking so go ahead and give me the long answer” lol. Cause oh boy if you asked you shall receive an answer. I love a good question!

    • I realized though that they really got an answer from me when my day wasn’t going very well. I don’t know if it is because I really had something to say, or if I was just too irritated to realize I wasn’t supposed to answer and just babbled on and on… maybe a little of both.

  14. WOW. :O
    you totally just helped me to understand whats going on inside my own head! i didnt realize that was all going on in there; my processing speed is high, and i probably get to the point of “lying” faster, but im still going through all those things in my head. “do they really want to know? do i have the time to say what i mean? ok, lie time.”

    totally referring to this on my blog.

    • It is funny that you mention processing speed because of this goes on really in the blink of an eye. But it is enough of a delay, having to think, that it interferes with the flow of conversation and/or thinking.

      When I track down my own thought process, I often wonder how I had so many thoughts and was wondering down some many paths in that little bit of time. I wonder if everyone processes this way…sometimes I feel like I lag behind, and other times I process so fast I can’t keep up with myself.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. 🙂

      • Gosh. Do NTs really not go through this? I’ve only just realised at 33 that I’m probably aspie ( though not officially assessed ), i always just thought i was geeky, or paid lip-service to the “on the spectrum” thing. I’ve always disliked labels, but now here’s one that explains so much of me I’m finding it weirdly comforting.
        Your blog is helping!

        • I was quite surprised that NT’s don’t go through the same thing too! In fact, I have many of those moments where it never crossed my mind that others don’t experience life the same way that I do (another asperger’s symptom). It was difficult putting the pieces together, but yes–this was finally the label/diagnosis/explaination that actually made sense. Before, nothing ever made sense, and that was comforting–to finally find a reflection of myself in other people, to find others who are just like me! So now there are those of us who can talk, and really understand eachother. Welcome, and thank you so much for reading!

  15. This question is maddening! Half the time I accidentally answer it (usually a mumbling half-answer because I realize midway through that no one cares) and the other half I just launch into my prepared question or statement, totally ignoring the question. I’m not sure which is worse! My biggest problem is that I’m so anxious to get started on the relevant part of the conversation and not forget what I wanted to say that I can’t focus on anything else, especially not idle chitchatting.

    • If I get sidetracked for a moment, and don’t get right to the point, the thoughts fly out of my head!

      That chitchatting before getting to the actual conversation drives me even crazier (if that is possible). My hubby does this all the time…too much chitchat…to much background…and not enough getting to the point. That’s when my eyes start to glass over and I realize I am staring dead into space until we get to the point, or I will start getting jittery (famous footflapping me), and I have to stop them and say…ok ok get to the point, or I don’t care, what’s the point???

      Of course, that is rude, and then I feel bad because with hubby I know he was just trying to share. I just have trouble wading through the unimportant stuff to filter what is important. It is just easy to tell me the important part and leave out the rest.

  16. Ha! I so get this! When someone asks me how I’m doing I smile, take a deep breath and blather on! No matter how many times I’ve reminded myself not to answer the question and say, fine how are you, I rattle on. It’s a mental short circiut for sure! 🙂

    • I thought I had myself trained…I thought I was doing good…until I went to get an oil change and an older man asked me how I was doing. So proud of myself, I smiled and answered, “Fine.” Would you believe he looked at me and said, “How do you know?” What?? “How do you know you are fine?”

      After staring at him for a few minutes, I said, “Because I am going to Disney World!” He thought I was making a joke, I really was going to Disney World. I was getting the oil changed and we were driving to Florida that night.

  17. Yeah, “How are you today?” falls under the broader category of Rhetorical Questions. It is one of the many neurotypical communication deficits that they refuse to acknowledge they have. I used to think about questions like that a lot. If I am supposed to ignore certain things people say and not others, then that could turn into a slippery slope of ambiguity. And not knowing which questions I should ignore and which ones I should pay attention to left me wondering if I should just ignore everything everybody says, or answer every question they ask whether they were seeking an answer or not. These days I sometimes turn those questions into a joke and try to make humor out of it. So if someone says, “How are you today?” then my response might be something like, “Oh, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you about it.” After I respond a few times like that people start greeting me by saying, “How are you tod…. I mean, um, Hi.”

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