Spexious

Observations and arguments.

Archive for Children’s Literature

The Quoting Gene

Update: We’re currently exploring to what extent this behavior falls under the rubric of hyperlexia, an early-childhood syndrome that pretty much mimics what I write about below:

The boy doesn’t speak so much as quote from his stories.

“Stories”, in this case, being an umbrella term encompassing books, videos, and audio recordings, which he listens to on CD in his bedroom or in the car on Mommy’s or Daddy’s iPod.

As an example, when tonight at dinner he shouted enthusiastically: “Spaghetti, yummy!”–or to be honest, “Hnehi, yummy!” (his consonants remain a work in progress)–he was not simply stating his enthusiasm for the spaghetti and meatballs, but was in fact quoting from Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy Yucky board book.

(We know he was quoting because he followed his exclamation with the accompanying line from the book, “Worms, yucky!”)

Many of the boy’s stories he has access to in all three media, because the Thomas & Friends Industrial Complex develops many of its properties in all three, and also because of Scholastic’s consumer-repackaging of the video adaptations of children’s literature done for more than fifty years by Morton Schindel and his Weston Woods Studios.

This multimedia synergy is a perfect match for how his brain has been wired. It reinforces the stories through repetition (recorded or when we read to him), a process complements his own compulsion to store entire stories as rote memory. (We first identified this compulsion at the age of one and a half–before the video or audio was introduced. Even then he displayed a fierce need to convert a new/unknown book into a familiar/known book, by shouting at us to repeat the beginning of the book over. And over. And over.)

And since family and friends are impressed by his ability to recite entire stories, they are willing to forgive the fact that he remains incapable (or more precisely: unwilling) to answer a direct conversational question, with even a token nod, let alone a verbal response.

The traditional use of quotations in writing or public speaking is based on the premise that someone has expressed an idea using better words than I could come up with myself, so I’ll repeat what they said.

In one sense, language itself is based on this premise. I’m thinking of a round thing, that rolls and bounces. I heard someone else express this idea once in a way I’ll repeat now: “Ball.”

But the quoting gene in the boy’s DNA sequence is the same one found in the individual, who when reminded of a particular scene in, e.g. Raiders of the Lost Ark, does not simply mention it, or describe it, but rather recites it, at length, to demonstrate not merely the relevance of the cultural reference to the current moment, but to prove mastery of the source material, if only to one’s self.

It is the same gene that will propel him, at a point in between the ages of eleven and fifteen, to commit entire Monty Python routines to memory.

I would be tempted to turn the gene off if the option were presented, as I expect that it will cause him a great deal of trouble in the social arena, especially when it comes to dating.

My best hope for him, I suppose, is that he finds friends who also carry the gene, and some similar taste in movies, etc., with whom he can at least develop social skills within a subculture of quoting geekdom.

If it was good enough for his old man…

…is I believe how the expression goes.

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Now, about that shouting

Having been through this same cycle of angry shouting with The Boy (see previous post) several times in regards to certain of his books:

The Snowy Day
Click Clack Moo
Abuela
and now
Madeline

JD postulated a theory this week that may explain what, from our perspective, is a perplexing set of behaviors:

that The Boy likes to anticipate what comes next in the books he flips through.

He can fulfill this desire when, for example, he opens Yummy Yucky with the expectation that he will find the page on which the baby has just eaten hot sauce, and is exhaling fire.

But with a new book, he gets frustrated because he cannot anticipate what he is likely to see inside. And so the short bursts of pages followed by an angry startover from the beginning is actually, from his cognitive perspective, a rapid-memorization process. He wants to repeat the opening pages enough times in quick succession that he will be able to know what to expect within the cover of the book when he opens it again the next time.

Would it be possible for him to accomplish this without so much frustration and yelling? It’s something he may need to work on in therapy as an adult. I can nearly guarantee he has not witnessed similar behavior in adults, so our best understanding is that this comes from some compulsive aspect of his own personality.

Which simply means: do not interrupt The Boy when he is twelve and playing Grand Theft Auto 2016 for the first time.

Is, as often, all I’m saying.

Pre-verbal communication

The Boy has always been quite good at communicating his needs, even before he could point. This he did by shouting in the general direction of the object he wanted to hold or view more closely, with increasing volume and urgency as Mommy and Daddy handed him objects other than the one he wanted.

On the plus side, when you get it right he is rarely less than appreciative. He practically beams with glee (when he doesn’t giggle outright.)

Current hand gestures include pointing (an enhancement to, rather than a replacement for, the shouting), waving, patting the top of his head (a reference to THE SNOWY DAY–“Down fell the snow, plop! On top of Peter’s head.), and shaking a pointing finger scoldingly (a reference to GOODNIGHT GORILLA–“All you animals back to the zoo!”). He also can sign “More/Again” quite clearly by pointing a finger at his opposite palm, which mostly means what it’s supposed to mean:

– I’d like more (oatmeal, milk, oranges, bananas, lasagna, etc.)
– I’d like to repeat that experience (read the book, watch the video, go down the slide)

but now sometimes means:

– Can I watch TV?

The newest hand gesture is an upwards point with crooked elbow that is nothing less than an amateur theatrical “Aha!”, indicating he remembers something similar that he saw or heard previously in another location.

E.g. He points at the image of a giraffe’s head on the side of his Fisher Price zoo train (the one that plays a tinny microprocessor rendition of “If I Could Talk to the Animals”). I say “giraffe.” He raises his hand beside his face with his finger pointing gently upwards and lets out a quiet “Mm?”, which in this case means

“There’s a giraffe in GOODNIGHT GORILLA!”

Then, when reading GOODNIGHT GORILLA he points at pretty much each animal or object on the page, followed by this upward-pointing “aha” gesture, which means

“I saw that on the video of GOODNIGHT GORILLA!”

And, often, he follows up with gesture #3: “More.” Which of course in this context means:

“Can I watch the GOODNIGHT GORILLA video?”

Cute (But Angry) Boy Report

The Boy walks over to pick up a hardcover book: CLICK CLACK MOO: Cows That Type, a tale of collective bargaining down on the farm by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. He walks back to me, hands me the book, and sits down, signalling he wants me to read it to him.

I open the book and begin to read. By the fifth spread he angrily shouts, slams the book shut, and yanks it out of my hands.

And then he hands it back to me, as though he wants me to start over.

I try again, improvising this time, a bit more animatedly to keep his interest up.

Again, he stops me a few pages in, hollers angrily, closes the book, wrests it from my grasp, and then hands it back to me.

Perhaps I am going too slowly. Sometimes he gets impatient when I stop too long on any one spread.

I launch into the book again, maintaining a steady pace of brisk page turns.

I barely turn the third page when he yells at me again, grabs the book, and then hands it back to me.

I hesitate, because now I’m thinking this is a test. Do I try the book again? Or transition to a new activity.

He shouts at me even louder, banging on the front cover of the book.

I start to read it to him again, and he eyes me warily as I progress. This time I am able to get farther into the book than we’ve been able to previously (to the moment when the cows’ note asks for additional electric blankets for the hens, who are also cold at night). But before I can turn another page, he once again erupts in anger, closes the book, and hands it right back to me.

At this point I have given up hope of getting this right, but I start again anyhow.

Now he is shouting at me as I turn each page, as he attempts to shut the book closed and make me start over again. Within a few more cycles he is not even giving me a chance to move past the endpapers to the title page before he decides that I need to go back to the beginning.

Finally I reach over for another book that I know he likes, and put CLICK, CLACK, MOO behind me. Time for something else.

He throws aside the new book, shoves me out of the way to pick up CLICK, CLACK, MOO, and forces it into my hands.

He glares at me. He is waiting.

Cute Boy Report: Dance of Joy

Over the past week The Boy has developed a new behavior that can only be described as a Dance of Joy.

From a sitting position, he will rock up and down, while waving both hands in the air above his head and grinning toothily (or, alternately, squealing in short bursts, sans consonants).

The only visual comparison I can make is to the flailing felt and wire rods of Kermit the Frog as he cheers and exits the Muppet Show stage, as he attempts to overcompensate for the fact that he has just introduced Beverly Sills.

Triggers for the Dance of Joy
(that I have myself witnessed):

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Oranges
Tangerines
Photos of oranges
Zwieback toast
Swigs of refrigerated bottled water
Bubbles
Cheerios
Sitting in a box
Throwing an embroidered beanbag ball
Triangles

The Dance of Joy has not been captured on videotape, nor has it been witnessed during a videoconference with his grandparents, nor in the company of friends.

But it is real, I tell you! Real! He really does the Dance of Joy!

Sometimes he burns so brightly in my sight I fear I may go blind.