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  • Writer's pictureJudy Katz

The Win/Win of Autistic Questions

Updated: Mar 13

Across the top is the label, “Autistics:”. The image is a still from Good Omens Season 2 showing Crowley as an angel, saying, “How much trouble can I get into just for asking a few questions?”

This past weekend, I was binge-watching Good Omens with my kids when I was struck by this moment between Crowley and Aziraphale.

Crowley has some well reasoned issues with The Great Plan for the universe, and Aziraphale is trying to dissuade him from asking them, sensing that Crowley might get into trouble. But Crowley takes pride in his nebula creation and doesn’t want to see it wasted on a larger plan that doesn't do it justice.

As an autistic, this resonated with me deeply. Especially at work, I’ve frequently asked more questions than others were comfortable with, either because I had concerns with what I currently understood or — more often — because I simply wanted to understand better.

…because knowing the details is often essential to my ability to construct a full understanding.

…because my brain has very limited ability to accept “because that’s how it is” and “because I said so”.

…because I want to do a good job, and I can’t do that unless I understand, and understand with confidence.

…because, like many autistics, I am both a literal and a lateral thinker. I may come up with several interpretations for directions I’ve been given. Or, I may misunderstand someone’s jokes or jargon... and I’ve learned by experience that I’ll be ridiculed if I get it wrong.

…and because, sometimes, I might have concerns about the plan, and I’ve learned that people respond better to the less confrontational approach of asking questions rather than expressing concerns.

Regardless, people who ask a lot of questions are often thought of as dissenters. And that made this an interesting moment for me in Good Omens. Everyone knows that Crowley is headed for a fall, but I suspect that autistics feel the foreboding in his question just a little bit more. That's some of the extra trauma that we bring to work.

Many neurodivergence trainers and consultants have written about this tendency to ask lots of questions and offered reassurance that autistics aren't being defiant or challenging, and that's often true. We really may just learn differently, constructing our understanding of concepts and plans from the bottom up. We may be trying to make the picture in our head less... nebulous.

But I would also add that when we don't entirely agree with The Plan, our ability to imagine scenarios that haven't been planned for — or find potential points of failure in the details — can be incredibly useful if it’s not shut down.

The good news is, either way is a win! Your autistic team member is most likely either trying to do a great job by making sure they understand, or trying to do a great job by strengthening others' ideas and plans. Managers and colleagues just may need to figure out how to minimize defensiveness on both sides and maximize effective communication.

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