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Reality or imagination from mouths of babes? Balloon boy is but latest case

October 20, 2009 |  1:42 pm

The saga of the Heene family continues as authorities prepare to possibly file charges next week regarding the boy-supposedly-in-the-balloon event that riveted the country. While bizarre stories continue to surface about father Richard Heene's past behavior, much of the focus has been on his 6-year-old son,+ Falcon, originally believed to have been in the balloon that floated away.

Krl11mncWhen Falcon uttered the words, "You said we did this for a show" to his father during a television interview, scrutiny intensified about the parents' actions and motives. Law enforcement, forensics experts and the public tried to figure out if the child was telling the truth or mixing in a little fantasy. The Heenes have denied that any hoax took place.

How a young child perceives fantasy and reality is discussed in the story "Out of the mouths of babes..." that appears on the Nation page today. Psychologists and psychiatrists weigh in whether or not a 6-year-old is capable of distinguishing real from pretend, saying that a number of different factors figure in, such as developmental levels, relationships with parents, and stress.

Kids may also have difficulty keeping track and making sense of information, especially in cases where an adult authority figure is coaching them, or asking them to stick to a story. "Depending on the situation, if you convince a child that certain facts are true," says James Hord, a Florida-based clinical psychologist, "he'll believe that. If later on he hears something different that doesn't meld with what he was told before, that presents a conflict for the child and it's going to result in mental gymnastics to try to make them fit. The child could pay a big cost."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Falcon Heene. Phto credit: David Zalubowski / AP