When I read of all the doom and gloom in the world, when I just want to put my head in my hands and sob. I think of my son, my beautiful autistic son, and the progress he has made. Progress, I thought was beyond him and me. He is learning how to read.
It started 2 years ago, when I finally acknowledged a failure of mine, a failure that was so so difficult to acknowledge. I wasn’t going to teach my son to read through the phonics method. I had spent many hundred of hours trying. If someone would have paid me for that time, I would be quite wealthy. But nobody paid for the time. It was time that I had flushed down the toilet because I was so stubborn. And it was time that I was never going to get back.
But you learn even from that which you flush down the toilet.
When Piaget did his groundbreaking studies on child development it was of great benefit to the world. The notions of milestones that children should be achieving at a certain age has propelled child pedagogy forward, and I appreciate that. But these milestones are only helpful for charting the progress of neuro-typical children. The notion of milestones and their achievement can actually be detrimental for neuro-atypical children, because when these milestones are not achieved it can falsely imply that there is something wrong with these little human beings.
I know that milestones were worse than useless in my case, but my parents were devoted to them as followers of Piaget.
There is of course profound mental impairment in this world, and we must acknowledge this. But so very many Neuro-Atypical children are simply wired in an atypical way and can learn to navigate the world, if but given a chance to develop without the pressure of milestones, and at their own place.
The kicker is that it can take preternatural patience.
And so I sat on my hands for the next six months and did not teach Elisha how to read and that was very very hard.
I also surfed the web, I read articles, I did my research, most of all, though, I thought about my son Elisha.
I gazed at my beautiful child.
And one day I had the following conversation with him on the stoop outside of our house.
It was 6:30 am and we were waiting for his school bus.
Elisha turned to me and with intense joy, told me, ‘Abba, I see the moon.’
He said it in that mixture of English and Hebrew that is peculiar to him, and he put so much into those four words.
What was he telling me? Maybe it was something like this.
Abba, I am so happy you are sitting next to me observing the world with me.
Abba, the world around me is so fascinating.
Abba, the moon is supposed to appear only at night, but here it is appearing in the day, what is the deal with that?
Abba isn’t it remarkable that I can see the moon despite the cloud cover and the rain that is pouring down.
Abba I am here with you.
Abba, I love you.
And I answer him, I love you too Elisha.
In those six months when I took a step back and observed Elisha, what I noticed was how his eyes absorbed all he saw. Elisha was a visual child in a way that I could only imagine. For so many years I had focused on Elisha’s challenges, my fault, my engrained ableism.
But Elisha can finish a 400 piece puzzle in an hour. And he can sit for that hour and do the puzzle. He has an ability to focus that most people can only aspire to.
And then I tried again, and this time it worked.
I read about how ‘sight words’ words that you know the shape of, but do not follow phonetic rules, can be more important for autistic literacy than for neuro-typical children. And then I found out that there were reading curricula that depended almost exclusively on sight learning, the so called ‘whole language’ method. I decided to try again. And this time I succeeded.
I opened this critical door for my child. And the reason I am crying now, is because I am so happy.