Of Logos, Licenses, and the Endless Questions of Childhood

I was one of those super-mums-to-be who promised herself that she wouldn’t complain about the endless questions of childhood. Instead I would embrace the opportunity to teach my child. This determination became even more resolute when I was told my son’s autism would have a serious impact on his language abilities; if he ever developed language to the point that he could ask me questions at all – form meaningful sentences and use them to seek knowledge – I would never let myself take such a joyous ability for granted.

And I don’t. I answer his questions, and I am ever glad he is capable of asking questions. But autism has a way of twisting “normal milestones” – like the endless question-asking of childhood – into something so utterly different and challenging.

My son’s latest and growing obsession, is vehicles; specifically their logos and licenses. He wants to know the names attached to every logo he sees (Mazda, Toyota, Mercedes etc), but if he can’t see the logo on a vehicle or we didn’t see it in time to tell him what it was as we drive past, he’ll get quite anxious about wanting us to turn the car around so he can get a second look at it. At times there is no visible logo – such as on many local buses and in a good many of his vehicle books – which leads to lots of questions about what the logo is and why it’s been removed. He also wants to know if Hino makes cars as well as trucks, does Mazda make cement mixers, etc. He wants to know how many licenses (learners, restricted, full, truck, heavy truck, passenger carrier etc) are required for each kind of vehicle; how long it takes to get each type of license; how old he has to be to get each stage of license.

If it was just the unusual questioning, I could handle it (Google gets a good work out in this house). But it’s not that simple. Hardly any question gets asked once. He’ll ask the exact same question time after time, even when he’s been given a full and clear answer; like he’s forgotten that he asked or what the answer was, moments after he’s been given it. And woe if we don’t know the answer: “I don’t know” is not an acceptable reply; not only will he keep asking but he will get progressively more upset each time he asks and doesn’t get a full reply. He often counters with a pleading and anxious “you can know, you can know!”

There are still times we can’t quite decipher what he is actually asking because of his odd sentence structure and choice of words. Sometimes he can’t form the sentence he wants or remember the question he was going to ask, which makes him considerably upset as he tries to convey both the question itself and the fact that he can’t get it out. He’ll even ask us to ask his question for him – “What’s my question?” – and get upset that we don’t know his question before he’s even said it aloud.

We do our best to answer the endless, repetitive questions and to deal kindly and patiently with the consequences of not being able to quite understand or reply to his queries. Both my husband and I have learnt a large amount now about the New Zealand licensing scheme for vehicles we’d never contemplated before, we know most vehicle logos and can even spot some of the differences in earlier versus later model logos, we’ve learnt some of the history of vehicle companies so we are better equipped to answer questions about who makes what, and so on.

I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with the “normal” questions from his same-age peers; the endless questions that I often hear normal parents complain about. Those questions I can understand and answer; questions that would leave me feeling like the knowledgeable and helpful parent I thought I would be when it came to this stage of his childhood. And if the child doesn’t get an answer, they don’t cry and have an anxiety response. And when they get an answer, they don’t ask the exact same question straight away, or next time I see them. Instead of passing on what I know to my son, I’ve had to change and grow my knowledge in order to pass along completely new information about things I never had to know and got by just fine without knowing all my life. I’m up to that challenge; in some ways it’s a wonderful challenge.

So this isn’t “normal” childhood questioning per se, but it is normal in the autism-parenting world, where we strategize to lower anxiety responses and address verbal language deficits, and become experts alongside our children in such un-noticed world-details as logos and licenses. A world where the very act of forming sentences and actively seeking knowledge about the world, is not the stuff of parental complaints, but the stuff of long-fought and hard-won celebration.

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15 Responses to Of Logos, Licenses, and the Endless Questions of Childhood

  1. nostromo says:

    Wow. Thank you for the detail, it makes it easier to understand what the ‘problem’ is.
    Esp for those of us whose kids cannot speak (might be kind of a blessing!!).

    Heres something your son will love 🙂

  2. Hilary says:

    My son has an adult autistic friend whose repetitive questions get louder and more urgent when he is anxious. I’ve worked out that if I ask ‘What do you think?’ I often get the right answer in response, which I then affirm, and sometimes it seems to help enough with the anxiety to move on to another subject.
    On the up side, the questions you are getting are tedious (and you never know how useful that knowledge might be one day), but not embarrassing. Try some shouted repetitive questions about family relationships yelled out across carparks etc, eg Mrs X, are you a widow?

    • Good advice re the seeking affirmation (we have done that now and then, maybe we should use it more). And we don’t entirely escape the embaressing question bit unfortunately; my son has a sad habit of asking people if their mothers (and other family members) are dead, which often brings up sad memories and responses, particularly when the spoken of is recently departed.

  3. Wife of Jack says:

    Our son at four has just reached the point of asking his first question this week. “What’s that?” I am amazed to hear it. A question seemed impossible a year ago. I guess we will need to be prepared for endless questions about rubbish and recycling! Road cones and “new houses”. Your post makes perfect sense to me! It sounds all too familiar.

  4. Jim Reeve says:

    That’s incredible. My son Jacob is into cars right now too. He know’s logos and car names and loves searching their websites. I love that your son wants to know about licensing and how old he has to be before he can drive. Jacob like to read the name of the dealership to me. Sometimes he’ll ask “Why is that Nissan car from a Honda dealership?” It’s amazing what you have to learn when parenting a child with an ASD.

  5. blogginglily says:

    The repetitive question thing can be a bit painful at times. A blog friend of mine had posed the question “why” related to that, and the answer gives me a little more patience with it (assuming the answer given is the correct one.

    “Dixie” from the comments section of that blog:
    “Oh, the questions…..there is a sentence in one of Temple Grandin’s books that was life-changing for me….it goes something like this:
    “I asked my mother the same questions over and over so I could hear the pleasure of the same reply.”

    Essentially, from that, I gathered that it sort of boils down to “control”. Same question means being able to get a predictable (controlled) answer.

    And THAT gives me more patience answering, “Daddy are you happy or sad or mad” three dozen times in a row. “I’m happy, Lily.” (ahhhhhh. . . calming down)

    The blog post: https://solodialogue.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/im-just-wondering/

    • Sharon says:

      My thought was the same as above. It’s the need for repetition and consistency.
      Harri went through a drain pipe phase. Although the capacity for questions about water drains is fortunately limited, unlike in your situation. I can’t bear having to repeat myself (just ask my husband) and so this would bug me to distraction. Your son is very lucky to have such a wonderfully patient mum.

    • Great insight, thank you. Control and predictability are major driving forces in my son’s life, so this would make sense, and does help me feel that much better about the endless repetition. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the entire post you’ve linked to, but I look forward to doing so.

  6. Tsara says:

    My youngest brother has an intense fear that in the future cars will be round. Often when he calls me up in an agitated state, this is what he has been perseverating on. He’s twenty-five now and lives on his own but has few friends so it’s always me or mom who gets to have the conversation. Lucky us! I can usually tell his level of anxiety by the sound in his voice and if it’s not to bad I remind him to think about other things, or even plainly tell him that I don’t want to talk about that right now. Then I will begin to chat about how my day was and what’s going on with me (as a reminder that I count too!) and he’ll relax, remembering that the world is quite a bit bigger than just car shapes. But when he’s real anxious I choose to help him with suggestions like ‘draw the car shapes you hope to see in the future’ or ‘go have a shower and call me back’. These suggestions usually work, but I gotta say, it was a long time coming! For years and years it was the same lessons, the same conversations! My mom just kept reminding all of us (including my brother) that he could learn to relax and enjoy his interests. I hate to admit that there were times I thought my mom was crazy for believing, but she was right!

    Yesterday my brother called me and we were just chatting about gas prices, phone bills etc. when suddenly it dawned on me. We haven’t had to balance his brain regarding his obsessions in months! When he calls me lately I haven’t heard myself wonder ‘what now??’. How wonderful!!

    Side Note: Isn’t it interesting how often our autistic kids are focused on cars and trains? My brothers did it and my son does it. Wonder why?

    Perhaps one day your son will create his own car company and design vehicles with logos he has brilliantly imagined! Grandfather clocks and Taxi pillows!! Perhaps he’d be willing to make the cars NOT round and hire my brother?? Giggle!

    • Aww, that made me grin 😀

      You and your mum are just so inspiring and awesome, I love your passion and dedication, and always enjoy hearing your own experiences and insights. Always so interesting and hope-filled 🙂

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