I am asking about my stepson. I don't have any children of my own, but to me his behavior seems bizarre.

He talks constantly and will say the same thing several times using different words. For example: "That building is really old. Look at that old building. That building looks really old." This happened during a walk recently. We acknowledge and respond to each statement, but after that third time it gets kind of redundant.

Also, he needs specific instructions. If you ask him to get dressed and do not tell him to take off his pajamas he will just put his clothes on over top.

He checks out mentally a lot. You can send him into the bathroom to brush his teeth and find him standing there ten minutes later, staring into space, not yet having brushed his teeth.

He also has a very poor memory. He cannot recall what he did at school or what he ate for lunch. Basic questions seem to confuse him. I ask "what did you do at the park?" He says " what did I do?" Or he will just not answer or will make up an answer. I guess because he can't remember.

He asks a lot of rhetorical questions, for example, when I am making coffee he will ask what I am doing. I use to answer but now I say "what does it look like I am doing?" where he will respond "making coffee."

Other times he is super bright; good coordination. I taught him to ride his bike at age four. I just don't get it.

Also it is like he is incapable of being alone or entertaining himself. He will follow you everywhere and wants to get super close. If you send him to his room to play he will ask to watch T.V. instead. If he is told "no, go play with your toys for a bit" he usually won't go, he will just hide in the stairwell. He would prefer to just sit on the steps and watch me wash dishes or his dad do paperwork.

  • 6
    The last paragraph is 100% normal. My kids would watch me shave. Or work (i work as programmer. Nothing more boring)
    – user3143
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 2:40
  • 6
    Children learn through talking. The old building is a great opportunity to broaden vocab and to introduce imagination - "old, dusty, ramshackle, tumbledown, derelict"; "who do you think used to love there? What did they do? Where did they go and why?". Coffee is a great opportunity to talk about planning "i have the coffee, what else do I need?" And processes "i put the coffee in here, then what happens?". Children really love talking a lot.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 13:54
  • About rethorical questions : You get out of your house, your neighbor is doing some gardening, you salute him "Hey there, doing some gardening huh ?" ... we all do that kind of things, that's a way to connect to each other. And actually all behaviours you describe looks perfectly fine... if you don't like redundancy, you're probably not going to like any child much :-)
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 8:44
  • Your kid sounds a lot like me when I was little. I spent a lot of time "watching TV" without really watching it - I was just spacing out, thinking about stuff and creating my own worlds in my mind. I also spaced out a lot when I was playing outside or in school, to the point I barely remembered what I really did. I ended growing up fine, however, and today, I'm a programmer, RPG designer and writer.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 11:06
  • Sounds like a normal 5 year old to me. My 5 year old might take 2 hours to get dressed if I didn't constantly remind her what she's doing. She's amazingly smart though so it's not like abnormal behavior. Just maybe the world is a lot more interesting when you're a kid so it's easy to lose track of whatever menial task you're put up to.
    – Kai Qing
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 0:41

6 Answers 6


Although your son's behaviour might be strange to some people, it seems perfectly fine. Some children are daydreamers and your son seems to be one too.

He lives in his own world and thoughts, so he just stands there and stares into open space. He forgets about the lunch and other activities, because they are not important to him or because he dreamed while doing them in auto-mode. Maybe he was in the park not doing anything at all despite thinking, so he didn't do or see anything he could tell you about. He probably recognizes that people find it weird if he doesn't remember, so he makes something up to fit in.

Rhetorical questions might be a way for him trying to connect to you, if he doesn't know what else to say. He might use it as a conversation starter, in the hope you tell him more other things as well.

Implicit statements might be hard to understand for him or he doesn't even question the purpose or sense of your instructions, because he has other thoughts in mind in the meanwhile.

Children constantly saying the same things with different words don't seem unusual to me. Maybe the fact that the house is old impressed him a lot, maybe he needs to tell it several times to put emphasis on it, to let you know that this is important to him at that moment. Or maybe he enjoys your attention, but can not come up with something else.

The unability to entertain himself is another thing, imho. It is something a child has to learn and watching you also seems a kind of self-entertainment for your son. Children also prefer to be close to their parents, playing in the same room if possible. If this is an option for you, allow him to play where you are. Or allow him to watch you or to participate in whatever you are doing (if possible).

Most importantly: Take him the way he is and concentrate on his strengths. People tend to misunderstand daydreamers and show disapproval for their behaviour, because it doesn't make sense to them. Let your son know, that he is perfectly fine, especially through your actions (e.g. don't raise your eyebrow in disapproval, because he did something you can not understand for the moment; don't laugh about him, unless he laughs about his behaviour too).


Perfectly normal for a child based on your descriptions and not too distant from my youngest (and he's 8 years old)!

I put a lot of it down to attention and everything has to centre around them.


I can't diagnose someone over the internet, but it's possible he might be on the autistic spectrum. Repetitive speech patterns, spacing out, taking things literally, and poor memory are all common features of autistic kids - as is having an uneven pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Does he have trouble making friends? Does he show other kinds of repetitive behavior? Does he avoid eye contact or have unusual or flat facial expression or tone of voice? Does he react too strongly or not strongly enough to ordinary sensations (eg upset by noises, picky eating, insensitivity to pain, etc)?

If he has a bunch of traits like that, and those traits are causing him problems in some form, it may be worth getting him checked out. But if his quirks aren't bothering him, don't worry about it. Autism is a spectrum, and there are people with autistic traits who do just fine.

  • Hi, Ettina. This is a good answer, and helpful. A link to a reference or source of information about Autism Spectrum Disorder would make it even better. Thanks for your valuable contributions to the site. Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 4:06
  • @anongoodnurse the first part, fixation of age of building and odd response to instructions, does sound vaguely autistic and it was the first thing to come to my mind. Some of the other stuff though does not sound autistic to me though. I would be inclined to not leap to diagnosing a child from a few pieces though; odds are he is just a normal day dreamer. I could link you to information on autism, but honestly I'm hesitant to. Autism is such a spectrum of behavior that if you get just a list of possible behaviors it describes so many behaviors as to be overwhelming and not too useful.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 14:47
  • if your concerned take him to a pediatrician. Any one should be able to recognize behaviors well. For that matter if I simply had a video of him interacting and speaking with others there is a decent chance I could recognize it; the inflection, tone of voice, and lack of eye contact are always the most obvious symptoms, after awhile you can just recognize it even if you would have a hard time describing what it is your recognize. Still, do not get overly worried; odds are he's just a natural introvert with an imagination.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 14:49
  • @dsollen - the poster states:"it's possible he might be on the autistic spectrum...it may be worth getting him checked out." This hardly sounds like "leaping to a diagnosis". I was addressing the poster to encourage links as a standard response on SE sites. Thanks. Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 14:57
  • @HolySnikeys This sounds very similar to my son, who has an ASD diagnosis. I'm a bit ambivalent about labels and diagnoses, but it has been very helpful in terms of getting some special services and understanding for him at school. As conceived these days, ASD doesn't necessarily imply anything about intelligence, development, or ability to reach the same milestones as anyone else, it just reflects a distinctive way of interacting with the world not shared by the majority of other children. Whether or not he is evaluated that way, reading ASD literature may be helpful or instructive. Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 16:01

I have a 5-yr old kid that does exactly the same (including that part that he ignores your question).

Completely normal for me.

Sounds like you don't have to worry.


I also wanted to chime in and say that my 5 year old stepson sounds exactly the same as yours.

We had behaviour psychologist look at his behaviour and temperament for a sudden change in his behaviour due to an unrelated hyperactivity problem.

Luckily the hyperactivity is now manageable through the coaching we received from the specialists we saw, and when we asked about a lot of the same things you talked about, they all came back and said it's normal for his age.


None of this sounds abnormal to me; I suspect and what he's looking for is more verbal contact and attention.

The oratorial tautologies (repetition of the same idea different ways) is a very common pattern when teaching children; he has probably picked up on the pattern. I found this behavior annoying, as well, and learned a few techniques to curtail it. So is asking questions to which the answer is obvious. When speaking to small children, we constantly ask them things we know, like what color is that car, or where's the dog. Eventually, they figure that out. Some of them do it. I always take it as a sign that they're getting smarter, and I need to treat them more liek an adult, conversationally. In particular...

  1. Stop doing it yourself. Try to figure out if other adults -- or media he consumes -- are doing it. They don't necessarily have to stop, but if he's getting it from media, possibly it's time to move up to more challenging shows and games. Some amount of repetition and asking questions you know the answers to will still be necessary for another 20 or so years, but it might be time to start asking harder ones, and repeating less.
  2. Engage more. Give more than an acknowledgement, either in the form of extra information, or questions, or both. "That building is old." "Yeah. I'd guess about 70 years old. I know it was here when I was your age. Did you notice some of the letters are missing on its sign? What makes you think it's old?" (maybe not all at once, but those are all good follow-ups.)
  3. When he asks questions to which he knows the answers, he probably wants more about it. Asking him what you're doing is a good start; ask follow-ups. They can be about what the steps of making coffee are, or about why you do it, or how often you do it, or if he wants to help, or if he likes the smell. You could also redirect the conversation by asking what he's doing, or what he'd like to do when you're done.
  4. Of course, accept that it won't change all at once. Learning small talk will take him time, but he wants to talk. And it might be that he wants to talk more than you do. Try to get him to read more, perhaps?

As for the instructions and spacing out -- totally normal. Raise his own awareness of the process. Turn common instructions into set pieces, like "Get ready for bed." Then you can quiz him on what that includes; don't expect one item on the list to stand for the whole list, though. ("Wash my face, put my clothes in the hamper, get on pajamas, use the toilet, wash my hands and face and brush my teeth.") You can also practice getting him to think through the implications of some things. "Put on your pajamas. What does that mean you have to do first?" For some reason, all the kids i know love having timers set for things. "Brush your teeth. You have three minutes." (and actually set a timer on your smart phone or egg timer or whatever.)

I would not say that not knowing how to answer "what did you do at the park" is a sign of poor memory for a child this age, especially if previous parenting hasn't included it. Try prompting. "I dunno." "did you chase a dog?" "No." "did you jump off the roof?" "No!" "did you slide down the slide?" "Yeah." "Is that all you did?" "No." "What else?" Recall is a skill that needs practice.

Offer to let him play with toys near you instead of by himself. Also offer to let him help with things like dishes; if you don't convince him that he shouldn't enjoy it, there's no reason he shouldn't. I used to love doing dishes with people.

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