Here's a little thought experiment for you: Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning and lost the ability to ask questions. I bet you'd feel pretty frustrated when you couldn't get the information you needed or couldn't interact with people the way you wanted to. You might even get mad and start to behave rather badly or you might just go off to be by yourself and avoid the trouble all together.
Most children start asking questions around age two, but hyperlexic children tend to have some serious delays in this area. Ben just learned to ask questions this past year. It seems like a simple thing but questions are a linguistic breakthrough. They give Ben ways to engage the world in all sorts of ways that were beyond his grasp.
It's also helping to eliminate some sources of frustration.
Last year at this time, if he experienced any kind of mishap, he would immediately try to do it again, even if it meant endangering himself. No crying or whining - just a nearly emotionless and intense and deliberate repetition of whatever had happened.
If he spilled a drop of milk, he would dump the entire glass over. He once stepped off the bathroom stool by accident and I caught him before he could fall. The next thing I knew, he was hurling himself backwards in an attempt to recreate the moment.
Eventually, we theorized that he was recreating these moments to help him understand things that happened too quickly for him to process. He needed to know what happened but didn't know how to ask.
When you combine Ben's strong need to understand how things work, plus neuroprocessing that's a bit slow on the uptake, add in the adrenaline rush you get when you lose your footing, and top it off with an existing need to repeat things (probably related to the processing thing) you get a kid that not only gets back on the horse, but throws himself off it a second time.
So we started to help him with his recreations by allowing him to do them safely. "Do you want to know what happened?" we'd ask. "I'll show you."
Then we'd walk him through the mishap - the spilled milk, the trip on the step, the bump on the head - by offering to "spot" him, explaining the events as he went through the motions again.
"You were walking here and your toe hit the step and - ohh - you took a tumble and landed - bonk - like this."
When we did this, he didn't have any need to re-enact the moment. He was satisfied, could unhook and move on.
I'm reminded of the cartoon Rabbit Seasoning, where Daffy Duck says, "Let's...run...through...that...again." after being tricked by Bugs Bunny into demanding to be shot by Elmer Fudd. (Come to think of it, the whole premise of that bit is that Daffy is confused by pronouns, another hyperlexic trait.)
But I digress.
Now Ben can actually ask the question, "What happened, Mommy?" when anything happens that moves faster than he can track or process. And he does - a lot. It's a new and different and more sophisticated way to say, "Again." He asks for help to understand, we explain, he listens. Now there's less panic, there are fewer rampages.
Because Ben has this new way to ask to "run through it again," the "what happened" question is no longer just for mishaps. It's become a joyful refrain for almost any action that he wants to repeat. When a super ball ricochets around the hallway, when he flips over on the couch cushions, when the huge stack of blocks finally collapses: "What happened, Mommy?" he shouts - now dozens of times a day - sporting a huge grin.
And now Ben is venturing into a new grammatical territory that shows how his ability to ask questions is developing his sense of cause and effect. He's asking "What will happen if...?" And he's using it in some pretty mystifying ways.
But more on that in the next post.