Do I Have to Answer that Question?

Bobby's Smile

Bobby has never met a question not worth asking again. And again.

The anatomy of a Question

My oldest child, Bobby, is one of those kids who must question everything.

Why do I have to go to bed?

What happens if I don’t go to bed?

What happens if I go to bed and I have to get up?

Why do I have to go to bed?

His eyes are brown, but look almost pale blue because of the scarring on his corneas due to Rieger Syndrome, a rare disorder he happens to have. When he thinks about the world around him and when he sometimes asks his questions, his eyes scrunch up and twinkle, and he will even, fleetingly, glance at our face if he’s very interested in our reaction.

Will you read this to me?

Will you read this to me now?

When will you read this to me?

Will you read this to me?

He’s always interested in not just our reaction, but in how we react. He’s become a miniature expert in reading body language when it comes to those he deals with on a regular basis. He can tell when something he’s asking is frustrating us, amusing us, or even if it stumps us.  And he will adjust his questioning accordingly.

Bobby: Do I have to get dressed?

Mom: (who really needs her coffee): Do you want to go to school?

Bobby: Yes. Do I have to get dressed?

Mom: If you want to go to school then yes, you have to get dressed.

Bobby (with a sideways glance and fleeting grin): But I have to go to school.

Mom: Then you should get dressed.

Bobby (grin in full force): Do I have to get dressed?

Bobby is curious and autistic. Repeating the question is–for some reason–reassuring to him. When he’s assured of the answer, or seems to know what our answer will be, he’s free to be amused, sometimes quite amused, at our expense, since he knows his endless questions try even our best attempts at patience.

While we are still working on helping him cope with this little obsession (and trying to stay sane), he sometimes surprises us with the questions or comments he shares in diligent, thoughtful, and mischievous ways.

I’m reminded of a story his teacher told me. This isn’t exact recall (I have slept a few times since then).

Teacher: Well, I have a little bit of a funny.

Mom: … ?

Teacher: He was asking what was going to be for lunch and I told him. And he asked again. Well, I turned it back into a question. Or I tried. It didn’t work. He kept asking.

Mom: Surprise.

Teacher: Yeah. [laughs]. So we came up with a new rule that once he’s asked the question, if we’ve answered it then he doesn’t get to ask it again.

Mom: And how’s that working for you?

Teacher: Well, he was asking about what was for lunch today, and when I reminded him that he already knew that answer he thought for a minute and then asked: “What’s for lunch tomorrow?”

I remember thinking that was so Bobby and such a testament to how much thinking goes on in that head of his. But that brings me to the second part of this post.

Thinking Beyond Today

Bobby’s obvious way to work around not being able to ask the question he wanted was to ask the next one.  I wonder, what if, like Bobby, we were told that we couldn’t ask that question yet again. You know the one. We’ve all asked our own version of it.


What did I do?

Why us?

Why my child?

Did I [insert whatever popular idea is making the rounds at the time]?

What if, like Bobby, we were told that we had already asked that question.

Well, I never really got an answer, you say. Sometimes, the rules of life aren’t fair. We aren’t given answers to the questions that plague us, regardless of how often, in how many different ways, or however plaintively, pleadingly, we ask for the answer this time.

I do believe in God, and there are platitudes I could answer with right now, that other Christians have offered me during the years. These pseudo-answers to the questions we ask so earnestly do nothing to dampen our zeal for that need to know. I can say what I do believe, is that everything works out according to His will. Not that I particularly agree with His will. In fact, if He’s asking, I have a few suggestions.

But either He’s not listening or His answer is lost in translation. In any case, I don’t receive those answers that would make it all okay, that explain it all and make the world right again. It doesn’t mean that my belief is any less if I just say that in this regard I struggle. And I still have questions. Sometimes the same questions. Sometimes many times over.

In this respect either I am very much like Bobby, or maybe he is very much like me.

Bobby was told he couldn’t ask that question again, so he just asked a different one, one that he knew he would get an answer to. And for him, at least, that solved the dilemma, until it was time to ask the question again. For Bobby, the echolalia and the OCD tendencies that are part of his autism are behind the questions, and are part of what makes him unique.

I, however, while sometimes slightly insane, am not autistic. I ask questions as a part of the process. That process is part of having three kids with varying disorders, disabilities, abilities. I want to understand their thoughts, their dreams. And when they can’t tell me what they’re thinking, I still want to be able to understand them. If, like Logan, their speech is stuck somewhere in at best a different or damaged brain, I still want to understand. And part of the understanding comes from questioning.

Sometimes, in life, we ask the same questions over and over. And we never get an answer.

But sometimes, if we look outside the spoken word and instead at actions and emotions and intent, sometimes we receive answers we didn’t know we were looking for. Logan can’t speak, but when he suddenly comes up and grants one of us a powerful leg hug (he wraps his small arms around our legs and hugs for all he’s worth), he tells us that for that moment he is happy.

I can ask the question Why?  and never receive an answer, but when I look at these three beautiful boys, I have to wonder if they aren’t the answer to the question.

Instead of Why? maybe I can ask Why not? or even Who else?

It sometimes isn’t the answers that we are seeking in the repeated questioning, but the right to simply ask them. And if we aren’t allowed that questioning, or if, like Bobby, we’re told that we already asked that question, then we either have to ask a different question, or look for the answers in a different way.


What questions keep you up late at night? What questions have you asked yourself so many times you lost count long ago? 



Filed under Family, Parenting, Questioning, Special Needs, Things Kids Do

2 responses to “Do I Have to Answer that Question?

  1. Brenda Wright

    The boys are such wonders, I remember the first time Bobby told me he loved me, I had told him I loved him numerous times over and over again and it just went right to my heart when he told me in return. Anyone that does not understand autism need to read up on it and learn..I probably would have never have read up on if it hadn’t touched my family….I am saddened to say I should have done it a long time ago.. I love the boys with all my heart, Bobby will always have a part of my heart. Good job Katrina and Jim

    • Thanks Brenda! They really are wonders – unique, engaging, and charmers. You’ve always been one of ours and the boys’ staunchest supporters. Thanks for reading and commenting – you’ve always got a bit of our hearts here as well. –Katrina (& Jim)

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