Many autistic people, myself included, seem to have a tendency to repeat ourselves in conversation. This can cause a lot of confusion, it can be annoying to the other person in the conversation, and it can honestly be embarrassing for the one doing the repeating.
I don’t know that there’s any singular reason autistic people are prone to this type of repetition, but I feel like it’s a culmination of various factors.
Often, I think we’re simply excited about the topic at hand. Once we begin talking about a subject that interests us, or infodumping, it can be difficult for us to stop, and we don’t necessarily always have the inhibition to do so. We might repeat the same facts or stories about a particular topic over and over, hoping the other person gets just as excited about the topic as we are. This can be the case even if we recognize the other person is uneasy or bored. We might realize we should stop talking, but find it so difficult to end the conversation that we can’t.
One of the biggest reasons I tend to repeat myself is perseveration. Perseveration is when someone gets stuck on a topic or idea, or even on a particular emotion, thought, or action. The person may make the same statement or ask the same question repeatedly, even if the other person has already acknowledged it. Perseveration can be frustrating for everyone involved in a conversation, but especially for the person who’s perseverating.
It’s important to remember that when someone perseverates, they aren’t being intentionally difficult, stubborn, or argumentative. It’s not that they won’t stop. It’s that they don’t know how to stop. They’re stuck in this seemingly endless loop from which they can’t escape. Often, other factors cause or add to this cycle, including difficulty shifting attention, processing information, or managing stress. Perseveration can also be a sort of coping mechanism when facing overwhelming or unfamiliar situations or anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety, another reason for someone repeating themselves in conversation is that they may be catastrophizing. This type of repetition is fueled by irrational anxiety over potential worst-case scenarios. Attempts by others to quell this anxiety often falls short, so the person catastrophizing might continue to seek reassurance by asking the same questions or making the same statements, but in different ways, in an attempt to receive a more comforting response.
Difficulty with interpreting social cues can also be a reason for someone to repeat themselves in conversation, especially if those social cues are related to body language. We may continue repeating what we’ve said, until the other person offers a more obvious verbal confirmation that they’ve understood what we’re trying to say. Aside from social cues, we may have difficulty in verbalizing what we actually mean to say, and we may want to make sure that what we’re saying is being accurately received by the other person.
We may also repeat ourselves echolalically, if it seems related to the conversation or as a sort of social buffer. Echolalia is essentially the repetition or echoing of words, phrases or sounds that we’ve heard from others around us.
Working memory can be a factor as well. There are times when we may forget what we’ve said, thus repeating ourselves. Many autistic people experience difficulties with short-term memory. I often forget when I’ve already said something and I have a line of thought related to a topic that I know I’m trying to convey, but I may keep re-wording my ideas and then it just comes out as being really repetitive.
In short, there are many reasons autistic people may tend to repeat ourselves in conversation, but we’re not ill-intentioned or being difficult. We’re simply navigating conversation in the ways that make sense to us.