There was a time, not too long ago, when Billy never asked a question. NEVER. Then, around the age of 3, he started SOMETIMES wondering about stuff that was missing: “Where’s Mama?” or “Where’s Daddy?” or more likely “Where’s Thomas and Percy and Gordon and Rheneas and…?” And another year passed.

I watched other parents roll their eyes as their toddlers badgered them with questions in the grocery store: What is that? What is that? What is THAT? But WHAT. IS. THAT?!

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear that kind of passionate curiosity from Billy.

Asking questions can be tough for autistic kids. To ask someone else a question, you have to first be aware they are in the room. Second, you have to understand that they have information you need. And then you need to be able to verbalize your need for information in the appropriate form. It took us several years to make our way through steps one and two.

And I can still remember the moment, after years of speech and ABA therapy, when Billy asked the first question that showed real curiosity. He was in the bathroom, looking at a “magazine” (Toys R Us catalog). Then he pointed at a picture and asked, “What are they doing?”

The floodgates were opened. (Considering the location, maybe that’s an unfortunate choice of phrase on my part. Still, you know what I mean …)

Questions remain difficult. Sometimes they’re quirky and frequently oddly phrased. Sometimes he wants information that I simply do not have. Neither does any other human being on the planet Earth. His curiosity, now unbridled, runs the gamut of its own spectrum. But I take each question, however difficult, as seriously as possible and give him the best answer of which I’m capable:

BILLY: Can I watch Berenstain Bears for one hundred minutes?

ME: No, but you can watch TV for 10 minutes.

BILLY: Is brown angry?

ME: That’s a good question. (Is it? I don’t know, but I’m buying myself time.) Brown is not a very happy color, it must be said.

BILLY: Who was the man on “The Small World?” (We rode “The Small World” 5 times at Disney last summer, and unlike my son, I do not have perfect recall of everyone who rode with us.)

ME: Sorry. I don’t remember. If we see him again, we’ll ask.

BILLY: Can I have one hundred M&Ms?

ME: You can have ONE M&M when you sit down nicely for homework.

BILLY: Why is homework? WHY?

ME: Homework helps us learn new things.

BILLY: Can I have a gun?

ME: No.


Question: Are these pets? Answer: NO.

BILLY: Can I have a lemur?

ME: No.

BILLY: Can I have one hundred lemurs?

ME: Definitely not.

BILLY: What are YOU feeling?

ME: A lot of things. Love, a little anxiety, humor – that means something is funny – and happiness.

BILLY: Can we go see Colin Powell?

ME: Sure, buddy. After homework. (Thank you, YouTube.)

Billy LOVES the library. This gives me all kinds of joy, because I always loved the library as a kid too. However, like with a lot of parenting experiences since I've realized I was the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I've had to learn to let go of my expectations. I've learned to just let my unique kid enjoy the trip in his own way, because let's just say he has his own ideas about what makes a successful library trip. To their credit, his teachers and aides really let him choose his own books. And he has strong opinions and makes clear choices.

Now that he's a kindergartener, once every six days (don't get me started about trying to follow this six-day system in a five-day school week), Billy gets to go to the school library. If I remember to send back the book from his previous trip, he gets to pick out a new book.

Opening his backpack on library day is one of the highlights of my week.

Let me recount what I've found there over the last few months:

Curious George Makes Pancakes (we already have this book at home)

Madeline (we already have this book at home)

Dr. Seuss ABC (Yep, we've got that one too.)

At this point we have a semi-long discussion about choosing a book we don't have already at home. At which point I open his backpack and pull out ...


Followed, six days later, by this ...


That was a long week.

But after we managed to return this slightly disturbing bit of graphic war history to the library, we went through a golden period of Berenstain Bears, small chickens, cats who love christmas and an alligator who sends valentines to a squirrel. Several weeks in a row he brought home anything with a knight or a castle on it. And then he seemed to be fixated on any books that had a picture of someone or something angry on the cover.

Then library day rolled around this week.

Yesterday, I opened his backpack and pulled out ...


This is a very long book.

There are not a lot of pictures.

But his aide told me he was insistent that this was the book he wanted.

And he does seem to have an odd fascination with Gen. Colin Powell's rise "Straight to the Top." I am stunned each night as he listens with rapt attention as we work our way through the beginning of the first Gulf War, Powell being named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his decision not to run in the 1996 presidential election. Needless to say, I've already started hearing a few scripts about "the decision to go to war" coming out of Mr. McScriptyPants at some odd moments.

Who knows what next week's library visit will hold? A manual on repairing the lawn mower? Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover? The biography of Steve Jobs?

Like every other day with my amazing boy, I know that library day will bring another surprise, a belly laugh or two, and quite a few learning experiences for both of us.

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