Something wonderfully amazing happened today. Something I could not imagine happening… wouldn’t let myself imagine, I suppose. My son read four books! In a row. That he’d never read before. Needing very little help (with only two words, to be exact – in only one of them) in his “just right” books. As he carefully read at his own pace, he gained momentum. Sitting by his side in awe, I heard comments like, “Wow! I’m really good at reading this book!” and “why do you think that happened? Oh – I see… because of this (pointing to the illustration on the page)…” I saw him smile and then chuckle at the parts he thought were funny, I watched as he grasped the story. Really “got” it. A few hours later I can finally let myself exhale. Yes, this really happened. And yes, this is HUGE. After that I couldn’t stop hugging him, whispering how proud I am of him… still can’t get the smile from my face for this accomplishment… and yes, I did the Happy Dance!
Just two years ago, we (as his parents along with teams of therapists and his teachers) were still working with him to be able to recognize letters. Associating sounds with those letters and being able to write them only came consistently in the last year.
Now, I realize that parents of typical children and well-meaning others may hear this and say, “well, all kids develop at different rates…” True, but from this side of the spectrum, this topic at its very core is a scary business. Those who know me would agree that I generally walk by faith, not by sight or by fear. But the reality of knowing that our child’s brain is developed in a way that could prevent him from ever recognizing a letter or connecting a sound to it, let alone blending those skills to be able to read… the uncertainty, well, it’s frightening. And even as I celebrate this moment, I feel the pain of so many families who haven’t yet been here and may not ever know this side of this feat.
Of course, while we’ve just turned this corner, these skills of his have emerged over time internally for my son. The tricky part, though, is that he is the kind of kid – since infancy, really – who only does something when he knows it will be done perfectly. For example, he was speaking words at five months, full comprehensive sentences – literally – at seven months (though it would be three months after that when he would be able to sit up on his own). Yet as early as those days and even today, he refuses to say a word unless he knows he is pronouncing it correctly. Same with riding his bike… and swimming… and reading… and rock-climbing… and – you get the idea. “Do or do not – there is no try…” comes to mind (thank you, Yoda!).
So that is my son’s personality, and that of a lot of people both on and off the spectrum. The challenge comes in when trying to help him understand that “learning” is okay – in fact, it’s part of the process. Particularly in school. I’d been cautioned about this by our very dear counseling professionals who know him well, and here we are. With many more years of school days to be completed! Yet, turning this reading corner puts me back in the right frame of mind. Just like the day he abruptly took off his training wheels and (literally) drove down the road… just like the day my cousin put him down on his feet at sixteen months and he walked across the floor after many months of belly-crawling. He takes it all in at his own pace, and then does it. With precision.
From a sensory perspective, this all makes sense. Over time we’ve learned how to help him filter out some of the “static” to be able to concentrate and focus on one task or another. From learning letter shapes to sounding out words – or even putting on socks – most of us know by now that even the tapping of a wire halfway down the street while the wind blows can stand out and block the way of progress for some of our kiddies. The headphones are never far from reach! These days, the body sock and rolling out like cookie dough (with the large ball) are big favorites. Admittedly, though, it can sometimes be tough to pinpoint what to insert where, depending on what’s happening at home and in school.
Peeling back the layers, while challenging, has been most gratifying. Allowing him to find the ways that fit his needs so that he can absorb, learn and then move forward in his own manner is a gift well worth the harder days. And so we are reading… with full interest, expression, and even getting the humor!
To paraphrase one of my favorites…
~ I’m grateful for the serenity to accept the pace of my son’s progress, joyful that there is progress to be found.
~ I’m thankful for the courage to change those things in his days and nights that allow his body and mind to find peace.
~ I’m eternally grateful for the wisdom to know when to sit back and breathe – giving more thanks for the unexpected.