Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why, oh, Why?

Commonly around age three neurotypical children will begin to ask, "Why?" about everything.

A representative conversation might be:
"Yes, Susie?"
"Why does it rain?"
"There is too much water in the clouds, so they let some of it fall back to
"Why is there too much water in the clouds?"
"Because they have gathered up a lot of water from the sky."
"Why is there water in the sky?"
"Let's go ask your Father!" (or look it up; or I don't know; or time to
finish your snack, dear...)

The questions all nest neatly inside each other until the parent is left with an unanswerable question and gives up in despair. I must note here that having been raised by a father with a Ph.D. in physics it was hard to get to that point with him...he usually did know the answer and often it was me who gave up the game of the endless whys.

I remember sitting in a circle with other preschool parents at an education meeting and listening to them bemoan the endless string of cause and effect conversations. At the time I could not relate. My daughter, though almost a year older than some of her classmates, had not yet met this developmental milestone. In fact, I thought to myself, "I don't recall her ever asking me any questions..." This was in the period of time when we knew that she had significant language delays, but before we knew as much of the story as we know now. That was more than two years ago. I'm "pleased" to report that we are now very much IN that milestone. A sample of the why questions I hear each day:
  • "Why do you not want to crash into the car in front of you?"
  • "Why do some people not like gymnastics?"
  • "Why did you use the laminating machine instead of laminating paper?"
  • "Why is this a skittle instead of an m&m?"
When I say I hear these each day, that is what I mean. I cannot tell you how many times we have discussed why it is not a good idea to crash your car into anything, but sure enough the next time we are zipping along in the family car the question arises again. It is hard at this point to be sure if she doesn't comprehend our answers (her receptive language is probably her weakest skill) or, my personal theory, she really wants to have a conversation with us and she knows this mode and topic will get us to talk to her. The reason I think it is the latter is because sometimes she can't quite decide which why question to lead off with, so it sounds a little bit like this:
"Yes, sweetie?"
"Why do you...why do some people...why did you use the...why is this a
skittle instead of an m&m?"
Mommy attempts to frame a response that continues the conversation but
answers her question...

Or sometimes the conversation jumps randomly from one why question to another with no apparent connection among the topics...except that she is leading a conversation as best as she knows how.

I am learning to give answers that help her stay on topic, and when that fails, I'm learning to understand what's going on and play along, just being a willing conversation partner even though it's driving me crazy. I remember back at that preschool meeting thinking, "Oh, if only we could get there I will never complain about it." So I'm trying really hard not to complain. Actually I figure this is just preparation for when our twins should enter this phase in several months here. Maybe they'll all three be peppering me with "Why..." and wow...can I come live at your house then?


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