The Tale of Two Dogs…

Every single school night, we have reading homework.  And, yes, I mean “we”.  I have to listen to him read, correct him, and make sure he comprehends what he reads.  This is a challenge.  I never know how much of it he gets.

Before he started first grade and learned his phonics, he was much more confident in what he read and how he read it.  Since first grade, his reading skill has gone backward.  He has lost that sense of confidence, gets easily distracted and, by using phonics “skills” mispronounces tons of words that I know he knows.  Sometimes, he’ll read at a whisper and when I prompt him to speak up, he’ll scream the next sentence or phrase and stop.  It’s like he needs prompting to get through every sentence.

As you may gather, reading is less pleasurable than it should be.  I’ve tried lots of methods to recapture his desire to read.  We’ve recently acquired library cards and read books together from the library.  This is a positive.  But not every library book I check out is a good one.  (In fact, a lot of children’s books are really lame, I’ve noticed…)

There are always mixed positives and negatives to balance things out.  He’s back into recycling his love of all things Solar System, so I’m stepping on planet books every few inches around the house like stepping stones.  You might think this would be a positive… Rather than read them though, he opens to his favorite page, always the one that depicts all the planets in a row, and goes straight to echo-land… “Let’s point to them!” he excitedly commands, and loving the list, rattles off the names of each planet, always starting with the Sun, and clarifying that it is a star, and that we don’t live on it…

I dread this.

Why, you ask?  He has been able to recite the planets from the time he was 2 years old.  He knows this info.  He uses this mantra to set himself into a meltdown.  Now that he has drug out this old past time, the accompanying meltdown has already come as an added ‘feature’ a couple nights when he’s been tired.

What he does is very rigid.  He must start with the Sun.  If we start anywhere else, meltdown.  If we forget to count the Earth’s moon (even if it’s not shown in a picture- and goodness help me if it had carried to all the moons…), meltdown.  If Pluto is missing because it’s now classified as a dwarf planet, meltdown…

When I try to read him new information or try to have him read new information, he goes back to the same old ground.  We struggle.  Sometimes, I win.  Sometimes he wins – but we both lose, because this is dangerous territory.  I’m quite sure an ABA program would be appropriate in this arena but, alas, we don’t have a lot of ABA sessions right now and getting any kind of response from the two sessions we have a week is questionable at best.

But despite all our struggles with reading and reading homework, there are wonderful, beautiful moments.  Moments that teach me that autism is not always caught up in reading and reading assignments.

The best example I can give you came recently, with the story of “Two Dogs” in his school reader.  Because we’ve had so much distraction and so little comprehension recently, I have taken to using an old ABA program called, “Tell me about the picture” at the beginning of each reading assignment.  Luckily, in his reader, there seems to always be a picture that correlates with the story.  I ask the little guy to tell me three things about the picture.  Here is the picture from Two Dogs:


This is what he tells me.  “There are two dogs.  One dog is white and the other one is brown.”

He reads the story to me.  It is a tale about how one dog, Jack, is clean, well-fed, bathed and has a nice place to sleep.  His master takes great care of him.  The other dog, Jip, is dirty, gets fed only sporadically, does not get bathed and sleeps wherever he can, including out in the cold.  The story asks whether a master who treats his dog poorly is likely to treat people poorly as well.

The little guy paid a lot of attention to this story.  It moved him.  He was upset about Jip’s plight.  The first thing he did when the story was over was go back to the picture and say, “Mommy, let’s delete the dirt!”  “Let’s… we can… mommy, can we take care of Jip?”

He surprises me and then I shouldn’t be surprised.  There are stories that capture all of us, depending upon our interests and stories that bore us all too.  I should not be surprised it’s like this for my son either.  He doesn’t answer questions about stories involving things that don’t capture his attention.  But, as empathetic as he is, he did not want this dog to suffer.  He wanted to clean him off and make him happy.

So, what’s the point?  I guess that, at least in our house, sometimes autism weaves its way into life, like with the planet books, and sometimes, it doesn’t.  Sometimes, he’s just a kid with a lot of heart.  And I feel like the luckiest mommy in the world…

My little boy going to school...

My little boy going to school…

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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11 Responses to The Tale of Two Dogs…

  1. Lisa says:

    “We” have reading homework, too. Tate is at a basic level. Very basic. We also use the “tell me about the picture”. It is amazing to me how certain stories seem to just whistle through the air around us, but others really resonate with Tate. When he’s anxious and uninterested in the topic being covered, he is more like an innocent bystander while we painstakingly sound out words or read sight words already memorized. When it’s a topic he loves (alphabet or Doc McStuffins), well, he can tell me ALL ABOUT the story and what happened and what he thinks they are feeling.

    I loved reading about T’s reaction to the book. What a sweet boy!

  2. Denise says:

    Can he listen to books on CD/DVD and follow along? Or can you take turns reading every other page? It might be a change of pace you both need?
    Empathy is a great gift!!! He must have learned it from his mommy!

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks for your suggestions Denise. We’ve never tried books on CD though I don’t have real high hopes but next library trip I will seek them out! He gets mad when I read – he wants to do it but man!!! It’s so like pulling teeth with some stories! (Btw- between me & the hubs- he most definitely gets it from me !). 😉

  3. Mom2MissK says:

    I’m terrified of reading homework. Little Miss likes to hear the same book read over and over (and over) — until she memorizes it. Then, she wants to read it some more. No other books are allowed until we have reached the point where she can recite the book without even seeing the book… and sometimes we have to continue at that level for at least another month. I have no idea how we are going to do reading assignments that change day to day.

    Once again, I find you paving my way. I need to make a note to remember the “tell me about the picture” program. I have a feeling we will be needing it all too soon!

    • solodialogue says:

      I do hope the “tell me about the picture” works for LM. It’s been so good for us. Of course we started with the framework of ABA on that. I’m not quite sure where you are with your ABA but it’s pretty simple to do it on your own too. xo

  4. Flannery says:

    I love those moments of clarity. They are very precious.

    I, too, hate the nightly reading homework. My kiddo gets distracted, has to readjust the pillow, the book…then he has to cough, or get up to blow his nose. It’s torture, pure torture.

    • solodialogue says:

      Torture is so right. Unfortunately, I have just now discovered that there is more going on than avoidance and it’s causing us to go through (sigh) yet another diagnosis. I’m writing about it for tomorrow’s post.

  5. I must say that whenever I return to your blog, I leave with a great and positive perspective. That is a great gift you have, to peel out the inherent positivity in a situation. So Thank you.


  6. Awww, such a sweet boy! We have to do reading homework as a deal- she reads one, then I read one of her choice. We must not deviate from our routine, but it works for now. I love his empathetic reaction to the dogs. 🙂

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