First Question

During the last two years I tried to teach Robert to ask questions. Not an easy task given Robert’s issues with pacing, timing, omitting sounds, compressing syllables, and a few other characteristics of his speech. To learn and practice mechanics and concepts behind questions I used   two No Glomour Sentence Structure books. One for Interrogative Reversals and one for Wh-Questions. I followed with Nashoba’s “WH” Workbook.  Currently we practice using worksheets from Teaching Kids of All Ages to Ask Questions.  

Of course I do other things as well.  I keep a few items in a small sack, place my hand inside, and say,”I found something.” I wait for Robert to ask, “What is it?” I take the object out, show him and answer, “This is…”   I hide items in the house, knowing that Robert has to find them and put them in a right place.  He starts looking without asking , but then he gives up and comes to me, “Drawer.”  he says.  I model, “You want to know (softly) where is the drawer (loudly).”  Robert repeats, “Where is the drawer?” I tell him, “Under the bed.”

This exercise allows to practice not only questions but also preposition, another concept Robert has difficulties with. “Phone”, Says Robert.
“You want to know WHERE IS THE PHONE?” I ask.  “Where is the phone?” asks Robert. The answers might wary, “In the bottom drawer.” “Behind the bench.”” On the top shelf of a bookcase”.

But as of today, Robert has never asked “WH” questions spontaneously, without prompting or without  rearranging the environment.

That doesn’t mean that Robert doesn’t ask without prompting.  He asks.  He just doesn’t use “WH” words.

Not once when he puts away laundry, he brings to me a piece of clothing and asks, “Amanda?”  I answer, “No, it is mine.” Robert hangs the shirt in my closet.  Robert asks for information or confirmation using just one word.  Of course, the person being asked has to know the context of the question and has to know Robert.

Yet, nine years ago, Robert managed to ask perfect question without using even one word.  He was already 11 years old but that was his first spontaneous question.

My friend and I were sitting on the opposite sides of the kitchen table drinking tea and eating something. I don’t remember what that something was, except that the food was placed on a few small plates.  My friend drank tea with raspberry syrup.  I drank tea with lemon and sugar. Robert was watching the table and as soon as the dish was emptied, he picked it up and carried it to the kitchen sink.  Soon, all the plates were gone and only two glasses with tea and two teaspoons were left.  My friend kept her teaspoon in a glass.  My teaspoon was  on the table, next to the glass.  (Yes, I drink and serve tea in glasses, not cups.) Robert approached, looked at both glasses,  picked my teaspoon, and holding it just above the glass made a stirring motion in the air.  At the same time, he looked at me with two question marks in his eyes.

“Yes, I said, You can take it.”  And he did. He took the teaspoon.

I still marvel, how considerate and tactful he was.  Without one word he managed to ask, “Do you still need this teaspoon to steer the sugar in your tea and if not,  could I take it?”

I sometimes claimed that Robert was born without language and that his teachers and I were implanting singular language concepts in him.

That day, nine years ago, I realized I  was wrong.

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