“Why he don’t talk?”

“Why he don’t talk?”

The question was posed to me by a boy I would guess to be about three or four years old. Before he asked the question, he first made the statement, “He don’t talk.” The boy had a slight speech impediment in which “don’t” came out more like “do’t.”

This conversation took place Saturday morning at the library. After our trip to the antique tractor show, I took Philip on our weekly visit to the library. He had earned another prize in the summer reading program, so he picked out another red star. I let him get the same prize since he tossed the last one over the fence.

After he had his star, he began his rituals. First, we stopped at the aquarium. I grabbed a couple of books for the week from the nearby shelves. Next, he was off to the toy area. From there, we would pick out DVDs, stop at all the windows and end up at the dollhouse before checking out.

It was at the toy area that we encountered the other boy. He was already playing with the barn and farm animals when Philip arrived. Philip started playing with some toy vehicles, but then decided to play with a collection of foam circles. It was at this point that the other boy came over.

“Hi!” he said. I responded in kind.

This other boy picked up the foam circles and said, “Look ‘t this.” He proceeded to connect the circles.

“You can make a flower,” he told us and held up his creation.

“That’s neat,” I told the boy. “Look, Philip.”

Philip continued to lay the circles on the ground.

The other boy added more circles to the original set. Philip glanced up at this point and then walked over to touch the arrangement.

“No!” the boy protested.

“Please don’t touch, Philip,” I asked. Then, I showed Philip how the other boy had connected the foam pieces. I handed them over to Philip so that he could give it a try.

By now, the other boy realized that I was answering all of his questions. That’s when he stated, “He do’t talk.” And then he asked “Why he do’t talk?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“He’s just not ready yet,” was the only reply I could come up with.

“How he talk?” asked the boy.

I realized how astute this kid was. He knew that Philip wasn’t talking like he does. He also knew that you can’t NOT “talk” or communicate in some way.

“Well,” I stalled as I tried to figure out a way to respond. “Well, ” I finally went on, “sometimes he grabs my hand to show me what he wants. And sometimes he uses pictures.”

“What pictures?” the little boy asked.

I had our portable schedule with us, so I pulled this out of our library bag. I showed the boy the picture on top.

“What do you think this picture means?” I asked him.

“Library!” he proudly answered. He had looked at the bookcases in the picture and, realizing where we were, answered correctly.

“Can I see?” he asked, holding out his hand. I gave him the ring of icons. He went through and looked at each picture. He spoke aloud what he thought they meant. If he wasn’t sure, he would ask me.

“What’s this?”

“That’s the picture for the store.”

“People, slide, food, shoes,” he recited while flipping through the cards.

“What’s this?” he asked, stumped by one of the pictures. It was the icon for “Relax,” showing a person reclining in a chair and watching TV. I explained this to the boy.

“What’s this one?”

“What do you think it is?” I challenged.

“People with a dog,” he responded.

“Yes,” I told him. “That means it’s time to walk our dog.”


This why made me remember that “Why?” is a favorite query posed by neurotypical children.

“Because we have to walk our dog every day.”

Satisfied by my answer, the boy went through the rest of the cards, guessing at their meaning, usually correctly. He returned them to me.

Philip continued to play with the foam pieces.

“Play with me,” the other child requested.

“I have to watch him,” I said, pointing to Philip.

“You can watch from him,” was the boy’s logical response. Sure, I could watch Philip from the chair beside the boy and the farm set, but I would no longer be blocking Philip should he decide he was done with the foam pieces and ready to bolt off into the stacks. And I could tell he was getting ready to bolt. Philip stood at this point and began to rock, a cue that he was finished.

“It’s time for us to go,” I told the other child. “Clean up!” I said to Philip, showing him the picture.

“Clean up, clean up” the other little boy sang. “Do he know the ‘lean up song?”

I told the other child that Philip did know the song and that we use both the song and the picture.

The other boy softly sang while helping us pick up the toys. When they were back in their storage bin, Philip set the container on the shelf.

“Bye!” I said to the boy while Philip tugged on my hand, ready to go.

“Where you going?” asked our curious companion.

“To get movies.”

And that’s what we did, before continuing Philip’s ritual circuit of the library. We stopped at every window so that Philip could peer down. He was quite reluctant to leave the last window, but then pulled me to the dollhouse. He pressed fingers, nose and mouth against the plastic case. Glancing at the time, I led Philip to the circulation desk so that we could check out and go home.

Why he don’t talk?

Good question. I wish I had the answer.


11 thoughts on ““Why he don’t talk?”

  1. I’ve had a kid ask me why my Jay doesn’t talk as well. Without missing a beat, my Ace (5 yrs old), said “he doesn’t talk because he doesn’t like to talk but that’s ok.” That was enough to satisfy the boys curiosity. Ace may not have been necessarily correct, but he may not have been wrong either. I was just glad I didn’t have to be the one to respond. I think it’s great that Philip has a means to communicate thru the pictures. I have a feeling that will lead to more and more meaningful communication in other ways as well.


  2. He sounds like a very astute little boy. I wish more adults could be as politely inquisitve as he was. There is definitely something to be said about children and their honesty and curiosity.

    I think you answered the question very well. My son also isn’t ready to speak. He may never be. On the other hand, he might someday and talk all our ears off.


  3. Been there – many times! I usually say something like ‘he is still learning how to talk’ and if I get the ‘why’ I say something along the lines of ‘we are all good at some things and other things we have to work hard at, but everybody is different’ – then I ask them what they are good at and what they have to work hard at. That was a pretty sweet exchange you had with that little boy though, so you handled it perfectly.
    What gets me is when it’s the adults asking that question!!


    1. Yes, you certainly have to make a split second decision on how much you want to tell adults. Do you turn it into a teachable moment? Do you let them draw their own conclusions?


  4. My other half said to me tonight that he always feels stressed when he is out and about with our son and someone comes up and just starts talking to him, asking him his name and age etc and our son looks up smiles and doesn’t say anything. He is trying to talk a lot more now but social situations are vexing and he’s learning what to say etc and what is expected of him. People tend to assume that “oh he’s shy”.

    The honesty of children is amazing and how intuitive they are that sometimes it takes my breath away. When I’d pick up my son from kindergarten the other children would run up to me and ask me a lot of questions “why doesn’t he talk” “WHEN will he talk”.

    I like your answer the best ““He’s just not ready yet,” Can I use it please?


    1. I understand this completely. I worry that people will think that I’m not giving my son a chance to answer. This is technically true, but it is awkward to just stand there knowing that he won’t offer the stranger a verbal response.


  5. It is awkward….I used to feel like I was talking for him before he started trying to say things ( I guess I was). I started trying really hard to not think about the moment when I was in it and just see if I could get my son to have an “interaction”….notice that someone was talking to him, eye contact, point at them…anything. LIttle steps…I started thinking of strangers as “teaching moments” ’cause let’s face it I’ll never see them again. I think its really hard to ignore the awkwardness….for me I had to take baby steps and not “beat myself up” internally for feeling awkward.


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