Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why? Because!

Children with autism use language differently. If you haven't spent a lot of time with someone on the spectrum, you're probably thinking, "Huh? what does that mean?" Well, for example, they use questions differently than we do. How they use them varies from one  individual to another, but they may use a question to elicit a particular response. The response is what they want you to do. It often has nothing to do with answering the question. If they don't get the response they're looking for, they may keep repeating the question. They assume we know what response they're looking for, so it never occurs to them to explain the purpose of the question.

We do the same thing, if you think about it. When we ask a question, we usually don't know the answer, are hoping the other person does, and are looking for a particular response: we want the other person to supply the missing information. We assume the other person knows this, so it never occurs to us to explain it. When someone asks us a question, unless it's obviously rhetorical, we assume that: 1. they don't know the answer, 2. they think we may know the answer, and 3. they are expecting us to provide them the missing information. It rarely, if ever, occurs to us that they could have any other reason for asking the question, unless there's some complicating social context.  Big Daddy Autism gave an excellent example today.

Until recently, GL never asked "why" questions, and treated our "why" questions as extraneous noise. Like "maybe", "why" was one of those totally meaningless words that his bizarre parents inexplicably attached enormous importance to. For about a year now, he has been experimenting with "why" questions.

Of course, like all questions, he uses them differently than we do. When he asks a question, and especially when he asks the same question repeatedly, he ignores our answers, which are irrelevant. His purpose in asking a question is usually to get us to repeat the question back to him, so he can supply the answer, whether to demonstrate his knowledge, reassure himself that the answer hasn't changed (usually the case with schedule questions) or to entertain. (This is the traditional method of using riddles in stand-up, which is how he delivers riddles. Unfortunately, most of his "riddles" are simply non sequiturs. To quote Veggie Tales, "Mine was funny. Yours was just... weird." And if something is funny once, it's just as funny the 500th time as the first.)

He has figured out that the answer to a "why" question begins with "because", but he isn't at all clear on what "because" means. He's a bit nebulous on the whole idea of cause and effect. I'm a bit dense about his rules, so I'll usually answer the same question a few dozen times in an hour before I remember I'm supposed to repeat it back to him.

For example,
GL (for the hundredth time): Dad, is Rex the dinosaur [from Toy Story] a leaf-eater?
Dad (for the hundredth time): No, Rex is a predator.
GL: Dad, is Rex the dinosaur a leaf-eater? 
(lightbulb goes on)
Dad: GL, is Rex the dinosaur a leaf-eater? 
GL: No, Rex is a predator.
(end conversation)

GL (for the hundredth time): Dad, what day is it, what time is it?
Dad (for the hundredth time): Look at the clock.
(Our clock displays time, date, day of the week, and indoor temperature. The outdoor temperature sensor is broken. It was a really cool chiropractic school graduation gift in 2003.)
GL: It says two three zero on a Wednesday. What do we do on Wednesday?
Dad: We go to therapy on Wednesday.
GL: Dad, what day is it, what time is it?
Dad: Look at the clock.
GL: It says two three one on a Wednesday. What do we do on a Wednesday?
(lightbulb goes on)
Dad: GL, what do we do on a Wednesday?
GL: We go to therapy.
(end conversation)

GL (for the hundredth time): Dad, why is the sky blue?
(A lightbulb goes on, and Dad stops talking about particles and oxygen and wavelengths.)
Dad: I don't know, GL, why is the sky blue?
GL: Because we can walk on them! Hahahahahaha! Dad, why is the sky blue?
(repeat ad nauseam)

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Blogger Big Daddy Autism said...

I know how you feel. It seems the repetitive questions could be a reasurance mechanism of some sort. It seems like a verbal stim. Even though it is frustating, it does provide for some funny blog material.

October 12, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

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