“Kevin, you are so debonaire.”
This was Zach’s response to a joke that Kevin told at dinner last night. Kevin, who works as an Americorps volunteer at our church, is very, very funny and not what I would immediately call debonaire. So I described what debonaire was and asked, “Does that sound like Kevin?”
(My belated apology to Kevin, but I was in teacher mode and I chose to sacrifice you to the cause.)
“Where did you hear the word ‘debonaire?'”
“On Bakugon. Can’t-remember-name-1 had to go to the bathroom and said he was going to pee on a tree. Can’t-remember-name-2 said, “Oh. That’s so debonaire of you.'”
“Honey, Can’t-remember-name-2 was being sarcastic.”
Then we talked for the umpteenth time about sarcasm. Which Zach never understands. No matter how many times I explain it, he thinks it means funny – anything that makes you laugh.
So now he thinks that debonaire is synonymous with sarcastic which is synonymous with funny. Imagine how well it went went I tried to explain the ‘debonaire’ didn’t mean funny; the boy was just being sarcastic, which Zach thinks means funny.
I’ve always assumed that Zach’s inability to understand sarcasm, and his inability to be funny despite it being one of the deepest desires of his heart, was a sign of his overall difficulty with social skills, including perspective taking. Today, though, I was talking to a friend who said that her daughter who is nearly 8 also has trouble with sarcasm and her son who is nearly 10 only seemed to get it a year-and-a-half ago.
So I did what I always do when I want to understand something deeply. I googled it. Here’s what I found:
A new study that came out this year in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology shook the irony research world to its core (Look, people, it’s not as easy to find a dissertation topic as you might think. Give ’em a break.) Apparently, older research indicated that kids didn’t understand sarcasm, one form of irony, until 8 or 10. This new research, done in people’s home and not in lab conditions, indicates that children as young as four can understand some forms of irony, especially hyperbole. And most can understand some kinds of sarcasm by six.
What to make of all of this? Nothing really. Zach’s still not funny. And he still doesn’t understand sarcasm. But according to last year’s research, he’s just fine.