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…