Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Max would like to know what that is

"What's that?" Max asks. We're at a restaurant that's handing out balloons to kids, and he just watched a woman fill a purple one with helium. Now he wants to know about the device she used.  

"The machine blows air into the balloon so it can float," I tell Max. "It's a special kind of air called helium, not like the kind of air you blow from your mouth."

He seems satisfied with the explanation. Me, I'm thrilled that he asked. 

"What's that?" is a relatively new Max phrase. It's not just his ability to articulate the words that excites me—it's that he's asking, period. Intellectual curiosity starts when kids are young, but as a tot Max didn't exhibit a whole lot of it. Perhaps that's because most of his energies were focused on physical development, including crawling, toddling and using his hands and fingers. He also wasn't all that able to express himself, period: He had a Dynavox as a speech device, but it was a clunker and not easy for him to use. 

Once Max got an iPad, we programmed questions into it. But it wasn't until he was 9 that he started articulating questions, beginning with "Today?" (As in, "Are we going to Disneyland today?") That's still a favorite one. But lately, all he wants to know is "What's that?" It sounds like "Wha eh?" and I have to translate for people. 

"What's that?" he asked when he was looking at my nightstand the other day and spotted a little night light you clip onto books.

"What's that?" he asked when we were at an ice-skating rink and a Zamboni came out.

"What's that?" he asked as I downed cottage cheese straight out of the container the other day, because I am reckless that way.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing to a Target gift card I was holding.

"What's that?" he asked when Sabrina was working on an invention she's creating for a school project.

"What's that?" he asked about the bug trap we put by the back door following The Invasion of the Ants. 

"What's that?" he asked, pointing to the roll of fat on my stomach as I stepped out of the shower. (Clearly I need to eat more cottage cheese and less pasta.) (Or at least lock the bathroom door.)

Blubber belly incident aside, I am fascinated by this new stage in his cognitive development. With Sabrina, I never had any doubts. But Max's mind growth is one of the joys of special needs parenting. It's exciting, because his world is opening up. It's astounding, because I know just what his brain endured at birth. And it's payback for the early years, when the "What will he be able to do?" worries consumed me.

I still don't know the answer. And that's a good thing.

Photo: Flickr/Ed


  1. Thank you for this post. My 4 year old is just starting to comment on colours and patterns, a huge leap forward from just requesting water and cake, as per last year. We repeat the same exchanges countless times (from previous posts I think you know a thing or two about that)... but your post fills me with confidence for the future.

  2. I love those higher level questions when they start popping up. So often, typical parents don't even recognize, let alone delight in those. I clearly remember my daughter, Brielle, asking her first "why" question at the bus stop about a jet streak in the air. Priceless!

  3. Average schools, people, or anything just weren't made for my way of thinking. I see things in a way that others don't, by focusing on details. I'm mesmerized by the simplest of things, but not because I lack intelligence. It's because I can understand the process and machinery behind it. When others see a cake, I see the work behind it. When I see a rock climber, I see their strong hands. I can see what others don't.

    1. Anonymous....
      I can completely relate with this!! I see everything--everything--a hawk soaring in deep blue skies, somebody getting up to use the restroom during movies, tiny details. I always blamed this on having attention deficit disorder!! ;)
      {Taken from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"}
      "What do you see?"
      "Everything. That is my curse."
      Love you later, Raelyn

  4. Ellen....
    Ah, Max is--as we all very well know--young at heart!! That is not a negative concept!! And he is so freakin' smart!! ;)
    Love you later, Raelyn

  5. Yay!!!!!! My guy is 10 with severe autism and he has not started using those words yet but he is starting to ask in his own way. I made nachos the other night and he saw me and came up and said, "Beef. Cheese. Nachos." with a questioning look on his face. So right now he's stating what he thinks something is but with his face you can tell he's asking if that's correct. I am hoping we can get to "what?" very soon!! I also have a 6 year old with high functioning autism and in the last few months she has started using what constantly. I am loving it!! What an amazing accomplishment... :)

    1. I think he wants to come up for a cheeseburger nacho recipe. I'm sure it's a thing.

    2. Anna the Flutist....
      "I think he wants to come up for a cheeseburger nacho recipe. I'm sure it's a thing." Crack. Me. Up!! ;-D
      Love you later, Raelyn

  6. This is awesomest.
    Not just one archievement of its own, but one that can lead to others.
    Also, endlessly curious kids are simply an endless source of cuteness and hilarity.


Thanks for sharing!

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