Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Suddenly, He's Full of Questions

We may be a year or two late, but Ethan's hit the Phase of Constant Questions, and you know what?

It's really fun. Tiring, mind you, but fun nonetheless. Why do I say that? Maybe because there was a time when all I wanted was for Ethan to answer a simple question, never mind ask one. And maybe also because this is new to us: his sister, who was quite the talker, particularly in her preschool days, was curiously never the type to ask a ton of questions. She would TELL you plenty of things, mind you. But she wasn't the one to trail behind you asking, Why? Why? Why?

Like so many things with Ethan when it comes to his social (not intellectual, or academic development), he's now tackling a phase most kids enter around age 3 or 4. I've always said that curiosity has not been one of his hallmarks. Unlike most typical kids, he has not had an insatiable desire to figure the world out.

Until now.

And so, in the past week alone, I've heard: Why is our kitchen yellow? Why does red mean stop and green mean go? What makes the thunder so loud? Why do people sneeze?  What does "off limits" mean? Why does the air conditioning make things cold? Why do the kitties scratch? ...and the list goes on and on.

This made me think a little about the evolution of question asking, and answering. Back when Ethan first started therapy, one of the first things his Favorite Therapist in the World told me is that so much of communication is linked to motivation. This is why, for many kids, one of the easiest ways to encourage them to request something is to link that request to food (the hungrier they are, the better!).

And so asking questions begins with needs being met. Answering questions usually starts with "yes" or "no" responses to said needs being met (i.e. "Do you want Cheerios?" "Yes!"). But what happens next? I'm no scientist or child development expert, but it seems for us the next stage involved the accumulation of basic information. This is the stage when labeling was big and simple facts, the type that can be memorized and repeated back, reigned supreme. This stage stared with questions like, "What's that?" and progressed to "Where's daddy?" or "When is dinner?" Naturally, this was also the phase when Ethan learned to answer simple What, Where, and When questions ("What is your name?" "How old are you?" "What's that a picture of?"). I should tack Who questions on the list, but with a disclaimer: Ethan has very rarely asked them, although he's much better about answering them. I can count on one hand the number of times he's asked me, "Who is that?" I am guessing this has something to do with his natural inclination to be more interested in objects than people.

That stage went on for about two years. And now (yes!) we have reached the Whys (and sometimes Hows). This has brought my over-analyzing mind to another question (no pun intended): Which comes first, learning to ask the questions or to answer them?

I have no idea if this differs for a typical kid, but in our case, the answer isn't clear-cut. At first Ethan followed most kids in that he started by asking for things to get what he wanted. But then I think he took a slightly different path. Because communication (and question asking and answering) has everything to do with motivation, at times what he knew or could do was not reflected by what he was doing. SO, typically kids might ask What or Who questions first and then start answering them as they accumulate information. Ethan has often preferred to answer rather than ask. He doesn't often pipe in at the dinner table because he still doesn't have that inner drive to prod people to talk about themselves. But -- that doesn't mean he can't.

As for Why questions? It makes sense that kids would ask them long before they can answer them. Half the time, I don't even have good answers to the Why questions he asks. But the funny thing with Ethan is that we'll often catch him trying to do both. So he'll ask something like, "Why does that channel have a big exclamation point on the screen?" and before I can say anything he'll respond, "Oh, I know. Maybe that means the show is all over." Usually his answers are nowhere near correct, but I can see it makes him feel like a little professor, to answer himself.

This is an awful lot to write about something as simple as questions and answers, except that really it's not so simple at all. Again and again, my kids, and Ethan's autism, illuminate so much about the world around us and the different ways we develop. And the best part? As they ask and they learn, so do I.

No comments: