[Ed. Note: November is National Blog Post Month (aka NaBloPoMo; click to learn more about it). While I hadn’t set out to return to my blog with any specific plan, I stumbled onto another monthly blogging theme – Thirty Days of Thanks. Since November is the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., I decided this might be a nice way to jump back into my blog and reconnect with you, the faithful readers who keep checking back and dusting off the screen. I’m thankful for you, too.]
In the midst of a tough day, there are these golden moments for which I am so very thankful…
Nik asked me to come play with him. It’s the first time, ever, that I can recall him using actual words to make such a specific request of me. He stood at the gate in the playroom, resting his device on top; “Sit, Mama, play” he implored with his whole body, making full eye contact. Both my child and my heart would brook no resistance. For nearly twenty minutes, we drew scribbles, shapes and letters on the iPad as we sat on the sofa, Nik’s warm little body leaning into mine as we wrote and made sounds together.
It took coaxing and more than a little prompting at first, but we took turns drawing the lines to complete the letters.
“Nik, draw a line down, baby.” With a little assistance, he did. Then I drew a line down. “Can you draw the line across to make the letter A?” With a sure hand, Nik dragged the stylus across the screen. He looked at me with a questioning look and intoned “Aaaa” to tell me he knew we had just made a capital A. Repeating the process for the letter B, I had Nik draw the line down then I drew the “bumps.” Ever the perfectionist, when my marking was bigger and there was a gap at the bottom of the letter, Nik tried to lengthen his first line with interesting results.
“Great job, buddy! What letter did we make?” His eyes lit up as he said “Buh” and shook his hand in an approximation of the sign for the letter B. And on we continued, sometimes hand-over-hand for the harder, curved letters, all the way to G.
Knowing he’d reached his limit, I let Nik take the lead. Thinking he would take the iPad away from me and turn on his music, I was surprised when he thrust the stylus back into my hand. “What do you want, love?” I smiled. He tapped the blank screen then signed “Please.” “Do you want mama to draw shapes, numbers, or letters?”
I waited while he contorted his sweet little face with a mighty effort. My heart was about to shatter with shared frustration as I watched him, knowing he was trying so hard to form a sound. Just as I was about to tell him to use his “talker,” he let out a series of short, breathy sounds which, I swear, sounded like he said “ABC” as one word… a la Big Bird’s song. My eyes may or may not have gone a little wide and gotten slightly misty when I asked him, “Did you say A-B-C, baby?” He signed “please” again.
After a few rounds of drawing ABC’s and singing along, it was clear; Nik was spent and needed a break so he got up and started wandering in the playroom. As he walked, I took the iPad and wrote the word hammer.
We’ve been struggling for a very long time to figure out just what, if any level of reading comprehension Nik has. His cognitive and communication disabilities make it nearly impossible to test with any reliable accuracy. We know he can spell and decode words, but we can’t quite tell if he understands the words he is reading unless they are paired with a spoken word. Because of his disabilities, Nik relies heavily on auditory reinforcement – pairing the sounds with the visuals.
I held up the iPad and showed Nik the word. “Can you find this, sweetie?” He approached the iPad and traced his finger across the word, much as an early reader does when keeping their place in a sentence on a page. I knew he was decoding it –sounding it out in his head. I waited as he did it again. He cocked his head to the side. “Where is it, love?” I prompted. He looked around the room a bit before he spotted it. Nik walked right over to the reflex hammer from his doctor kit and brought it to me!
Next, I wrote vest. Seeing, decoding, understanding; Nik brought me his swim vest. Feeling giddy, I wrote 3 socks; it was a long-shot. Nik struggles with numbers and counting so I wasn’t sure if had set him up for failure and frustration. There was two pair of socks on the floor by the laundry closet door. Again, the finger, the decoding, the head tilt…and off he went toward the socks. Nik immediately picked up two socks; it made sense as we sing about how “shoes and socks will always come in twos.” He hesitated.
“How many?” I prompted. He looked at me for a moment then bent over and picked up… one.more.sock. He brought me exactly three socks. Not four. THREE.
And on this went for a few more words. I added some complexity—
“Get orange hat.” He got it.
“Put hat on.” He did… on my head. (Smart alec kid! Who says kids with autism don’t have a sense of humor?)
I admit, “Put hat in blue bucket” may have been pushing the envelope a bit. He struggled with that one. But…
NIK READ. Like, really, truly read! And he understood what he read! I didn’t speak the words at all and gave him NO help other than asking “How many?” for the socks.
Signaling the end of our play time, Nik walked to where I sat on the sofa, took the iPad out of my hands and turned on his music. Without so much as a backward glance my way, he crossed the room, turned the bucket over and climbed on top to sit by the window. The message was loud and clear – “All done, Mama.”
Somehow, I think we’ve turned a page. And, oh, my little bear, this is just the beginning of an exciting new chapter.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu
“I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned…”
“Unwritten” (N. Bedingfield, D. Brisebois & W. Rodriguez)