Self Taught.

Since my son was able to walk, regardless of his ability to verbally communicate, he always made it clear what he liked and didn’t like.  And it’s always been that what he likes, he loves.  What he doesn’t like, he despises.

Truthfully, I’ve always respected this part of his autism.  I guess it’s because he learns so much in whatever subject happens to capture his interest.  Yes, there is an endless loop of repetition, but every one of us uses repetition to learn some things, don’t you think?

I just do not consider his interests odd or detrimental.  (Okay, maybe a little odd, but whose interests aren’t?)  The intensity of interest helps him learn.  It facilitates his language and speech.  He has fun and he plays happily on his own when he gets into something.

I’ve mentioned here how he has a new interest in Elvis.  He put that together with his computer skills over the weekend, and he googled Elvis.  He called me over and voila!  There was an old black and white photo of young Elvis on my computer screen.  That was pretty impressive.  He didn’t ask me to spell or get him to a search engine.  He did it by himself.  And, although he’s been searching on You Tube and Amazon for quite some time, he usually will ask for spelling.  This one was solo.  For a 5 year old, I think that’s pretty amazing.

Another way I see his interests help him learn, is by using them to refresh his knowledge of things to which he is exposed in kindergarten.  For instance, right now, his kindergarten class is heavily involved in phonics.  He taught himself how to read years ago (when he was about 2) and I had either forgotten or really never understood how it came about.  Now, I’m seeing how it must have happened.

How?  He pulled out his baby toys.  Most of the toys he demanded (through tears or meltdowns) when he was a baby and toddler were electronic.  They were “phonics” toys.  They taught how to sound out words.  Think of any of the Leapfrog and V Tech toys that teach the alphabet and letter sounds.  This was how he taught himself to read and sound out words.

Now that his class is going over this sounding out of words in school, he has pulled out his “phonics” toys, and he’s using them like a DJ scratching a record.  He will repeat the same word or sound by pushing a button over and over again, 20-30 times in rapid succession.  This can go on for 2 minutes to 30 minutes at a time.  Then he will abruptly stop, look away for a minute (up and to the left or right) and then put away the toy.

Honestly?  It looks like he is engaging himself in a refresher course.  Or going back and saying to himself, “Oh so that’s how I taught myself to read.”  It’s a strange thing to watch but fascinating nevertheless.

Tootles is the kind of boy who is very interested in mechanical and computer related things.  He will spend hours on the computer, video games and playing remote control cars.  While his playing is different, I have come to appreciate that in every obsessive, seemingly strange “play” type behavior, my son is teaching himself something.

First, he taught himself to read and spell.  Next, he used those skills to navigate the internet and search for things he desires.  If I look, I can see learning taking place in just about everything he does.

He plays video games that teach him coordination, perspective, competition, more and less through how many points he earns, winning and losing, beginning and endings, and turn taking.  He runs remote control cars with ease and knows his left from right, how to turn, spin, back up and take a corner with a toy car.

When I let him play what he wants on his own, instead of forcing him to do a task (homework, therapy, do a chore) he is still learning, like his mind is starving for the input.  When I get too hands-on, he seems to freeze.

When I brush his teeth, he has always closed down his mouth.  I have to keep prompting him to open and to brush.  The other day I walked in, and there he was, by himself, on his little stool brushing his teeth!

When I sat by him as he was to write his numbers on some homework, he froze.  When I walked away to answer the phone and returned, he had done a whole set of numbers by himself.

As he learns, so do I.  When I step back and let him self teach, he’s learning all by himself.  I’ve come to realize that he’s always engaged in learning.  He is asking hundreds of questions each day (many the same question over and over).  I’ve taken to calling him “professor”.  He will ask me fill-in-the-blank questions to which he knows the answer.  They drive me crazy, partly because they are repetitive, but even more so when I get the answer wrong…


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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16 Responses to Self Taught.

  1. Karla (Mom2MissK) says:

    It’s funny that you mention the teeth brushing… Over the last few days, LM has been announcing that she wants to go potty. If I try to “help teach her,” it’s chaos and pain – for both of us. But the other night, I was exhausted…. I told her “you do it every day in school… You know what to do” and damn if she didn’t go inthe bathroom and do it all by herself!

    We’ve still got a lot of work to do (still PLENTY of yucky pull-ups and she needs help pulling pants back up, etc.) – but she’s got the mechanics… And she learned all by herself – just like T.

  2. C... says:

    He sounds super independent and he likes Elvis. He’s already on my LIKE list. 🙂 I love Elvis.

  3. Lizbeth says:

    Tootles sounds so much like Alex when he was younger. I love how things he’s learning now are coming into play and he’s getting a refresher course. And yeah, I’m still getting quizzed….you know the different layers of the atmosphere off the top of your head? Me either….

  4. blogginglily says:

    Lily is more receptive to eating (much of the time anyway) when she’s allowed to take control herself. When it’s done for her. . . she fights it. When it’s done at her pace it’s not forced (literally) down her throat. . . she accepts it at her own comfortable pace. Maybe that’s what you’re seeing. . .

  5. Kara says:

    At this rate, hide the car keys. Tootles will be teaching himself to drive by age seven. Good. Ness.

  6. What a lovely boy, and so smart!

  7. Lana Rush says:

    I swear that Lily doesn’t do things sometimes simply because I am asking her to do it, which in her mind is a demand. I can be a bit “hovering” so maybe I need to take a cue from Tootles and give Lily a chance to show me she doesn’t really need my help all the time.

    And brushing teeth all by himself??? My word, that will be one happy day around this house!! 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Well, as far as the tooth brushing goes, he is very anti-toothbrush – so perhaps this is all just experimental. But we’re headed in the right direction and that’s always good. I hate to step back but when I do, I’m finding he gets it if I give him time.

  8. eof737 says:

    Tootles is brilliant… always knew that! 🙂

  9. My whole family is into Elvis, so I especially enjoyed this post. My little guy can’t really read yet (though he can sight read a few words), but he taught himself letters and numbers in much the same way Tootles did. He can count past thirty. I’ve been trying to teach him his name for *ever* and all I got were blank stares. He hates writing, but loves tracing and will often ask someone to write letters for him to trace. The other day he asked me letter by letter to spell his name. Guess those weren’t blank stares after all!

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