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Spencer’s Literal Thinking

Spencer was a nine-year old boy with very high intelligence and a strong conscience.  Every year, he and his family vacationed at their cottage in a small lakeside town in northern Michigan. Spencer’s parents decided that this safe and friendly little town would be the perfect place to encourage Spencer’s independence in the community. Starting him off with a task at which they felt he would surely succeed, they instructed their son to go the bakery, just a few blocks away, for a loaf of bread. Spencer had gone to this bakery many times and observed this simple purchase many times before. To further ensure Spencer’s success in his solo venture out into the community, they rehearsed. Together they reviewed what to ask, when to pay, how to wait for change, and the process of saying “thank you” to the baker, taking the bread, and coming straight home. Although somewhat annoyed by what he perceived as his parents’ unnecessary coaching, Spencer rehearsed and role-played. Off he went, his parent anxiously awaiting his return.

Spencer returned home empty-handed. Despite his parents’ careful preparation, there was one element that had not been anticipated. As Spencer apologetically gave his mother back the money that she had given him, he explained that the bakery had a sign on the door that read:


Obviously, Spencer could not enter the bakery when there was a sign on the door clearly stating that the door was not to be opened. He searched for alternate entry into the bakery, one that did not forbid entry, without success.



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