Thursday, March 1, 2012

Literary Incognito

More words, less pictures! 
Leo and I really try a lot not to pressure Maya about school and school work.  Our natural autism rhythm has been to allow home to be her place, her place where she can totally be herself and not have to conform.  After all as a child on the autism spectrum, going to school and therapy she spends her entire day conforming, going against her own natural rhythms while teachers, therapists and other professionals try to instill a new rhythm in her.

I have mentioned this in many other previous blog posts but one of the first pieces of advice we got from Maya's team was not to turn home into an extension of school.  That as a young child and a child with autism, it was better if we didn't try to consciously work on Maya's issues with her because she needs her down time, she needs the chance to come home everyday and do what feels comfortable to her, to be herself, comfortable in her surroundings and her own skin.  So we were asked not to work with her on writing her own name or reading or any other real academic endeavors.  We were told to of course encourage all these activities but to really let her be in the driver's seat about doing them with us.  Our social worker told us that many parents lovingly try to push learning onto the  kids at home and actually these can in some cases impede a child's progress because they have to be "on" even at home.  

So, we have been the Duke and Duchess of downtime.  And she has steadily made progress.

One area, which I have not been shy about mentioning before on this blog is reading.  Reading is something which keeps me up at night and really worries me.  Reading is "the" thing, or at least it is the thing right now.  The difference between literacy and illiteracy is a huge one, literacy isn't enough to open doors but illiteracy means that many doors are slammed shut and while I have followed the school's lead and advice to not pressure her about it, inwardly I stress about it.   

Maya has been shy and does an amazing avoidance dance anytime the topic comes to reading or literacy.  As a toddler and a younger child, she would never sing the alphabet song and while her numbers books got dog-eared and worn, the spine of the alphabet books barely got cracked (I could probably still return them).   Any ABC's singing was met with screams, shrieks and full out laying down on the floor.  At school a couple of years ago we were told that at school she does do things with letters (and we saw it from the school work which was sent home) but they advised us not even to mention it or to try and get her to talk about it at home because she is very insecure about it.  Maya being a child who will not be pressured, encouragement can often make her cut and run.  The way to get her over the hump is to not pressure her, to build her confidence and eventually she will take the step herself.

So, we made reading a no-go topic in our house.  

And it has pretty much been that way ever since.  No matter what milestones she has reached over the past two years, we cannot go there with reading.  She does not get any more comfortable with it and says when we are about to read her a story, that we are reading and we can't ask her to read.

I would have totally freaked out about the situation eons ago, but we do see her school work and we can see she knows her letters and since last year she started learning how to read but even the most subtle, roundabout way to bring it up at home was met with gale force resistance.

At parents night at the beginning of the school year we saw the reading she was doing.  They use a visual system at school to teach kids how to read, it is not based on sounding out letters but based on visual recognition, first with pictures and slowly but surely with words.

The very beginning
So, the taboo subject isn't so tortuous because we know things are happening.  But still, my fantasies of having my daughter read me one of her books and later reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder together are not coming to pass and I worry that if she never gets comfortable reading then literacy will always be an issue for her thereby making her options as an adult severely limited.  

I just breathe and tell myself to be patient, three years ago she wet her pants regularly and it took me 1.5 hours to get her dressed.  

Lately though there are little inklings.  

About a month ago Maya was pretending she was a dog and in a moment of foolish hubris,  I wrote the words dog and cat on two post its and I asked her which one said dog?  She told me she didn't know and got angry that I asked her because she said she doesn't know how to read.  So I put the post its on the dining room table and went back to what I was doing.  About a half hour later, Maya came downstairs asking for a snack, I noticed on her way back upstairs with her string cheese she peered at those two post its, but hurried off when she saw me looking at her.  A while after that she came downstairs, I was cooking dinner and didn't see her come in and all of a sudden she was next to me and handed me the post it and said, "this one says dog."  I tried to hug her but she ran away and told me not to talk about it anymore.  

Then on Monday evening I was showing her the website for the amusement park that we were going to the next day.  I wanted to acquaint her with some of the rides and facilities so she would know what to expect when we got there.  I clicked to a page that listed all the rides, it was just a list of hyperlinks, no pictures.  Maya kept asking if they had a ballenbak which is Dutch for Ball Pit.  So I was looking at the list, which was not in alphabetical order, and then Maya pointed at the word ballenbak  and shrieked, they do have a ball pit! 

I knew if I screamed, made any big movements or sounds I would lose her.  When Maya feels insecure about something she has a very hard time when she feels people are watching her and she most certainly doesn't want to talk about it.  It was why for so long at school she could not participate in circle time and answer questions with all eyes on her.   I knew that if I wanted a shot at having this conversation with her I had to not make her feel self conscious.  

I very quietly averted my eyes away from her and looked down and asked her how she knew that word was for the ball pit, she corrected me and said, "it doesn't say ball pit, it says ballenbak", explaining to me that it was Dutch.  So I looked away from her and asked her very softly how she knew that was the word ballenbak?  She asked me if she could whisper the answer in my ear (which is what she wants to do when she feels insecure) and she very softly said, "I can read it." 

Cue fireworks, big brass band, ticker tape parade! 

In my head.  

Of course what really matters is that she is learning how to read and making progress.  Yes, I want to live out my Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy with her and maybe we can.  

Maybe we will!  


  1. Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. That's so exciting! I know exactly what you mean about not pushing at home, and allowing home to be a refuge, even when we very badly want to push some more, just to help. I go through a similar route with K, but on behavior rather than reading. Sometimes I need to wait until a later time to congratulate, otherwise she will also play the avoidance game. I think maybe they don't want us to notice so we won't put extra pressure on them to keep it up. It's an evasion of responsibility. They don't want you to expect more of them next time. I wish I had known that 2 years ago....

    1. I don't really recognize the evasion of responsibility thing with Maya, although that is typical kid behavior. It is more her insecurity which drives the avoidance than actual avoidance, but I could be way off base.