Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Autistic kids often struggle with "wh" questions. Questions with a who, what, when, where, or why. These kids might stare at you blankly when you ask, "Where are you going?" or "Why are your clothes on backwards?" Even if they can answer such questions, asking them remains difficult. Martin and his tutors do flashcards designed specifically to develop proficiency in answering and asking these "wh" questions. We hold up picture cards and ask questions like, "What is the girl holding?" or "Where is the boy going?" The hope is that Martin - aided by the visual prompt of the card - will answer "A ball" or "To school."

Martin has made progress in answering "wh" questions over the past year. But his ability to ask them has increased dramatically only in the last few weeks. He asks us about where things are, what time it is, or when we will go to the library. It's really exciting. He has not, however, entered the final "wh" frontier: why questions.

I've known kids, ranging in age from three to five, who ask why about everything so much and with such intensity that my normally pacifistic personality morphs to the point I'm ready to clobber someone. You know the kid, right? "Why are you going out the door? Why is the sky blue? Why do you need a water heater and an ice cube maker? Why are you drinking that bottle of Scotch?" After the twentieth why question, you're ready to do anything to make it stop.

Martin has never asked why. Although he expresses frustration that church happens on Sunday but not Saturday, he never asks why that is. Even though he's sad when we tell him that we can't go to the park on a particular evening, he's never asked why not. Since the word "why" hardly exists for him, it's as though his brain can't accommodate the concept of questioning. It's so weird. And it makes me believe, once again, that Wittgenstein was right.

Nevertheless, I predict we'll hear a why question by Christmas. I'll let you know.


  1. Why is Wittgenstein right?

  2. My 4 year old is that child who never stops asking 'why'. For the past 2 years since she's been able to speak. People find it charming for the first 4 minutes. Maybe she can coach Martin come Christmas.

    And 'once again W was right'? Has he been so before this?