Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Reading v.2

Asleep after reading Charlotte's Web

For a long time Joaquin has been able to read; however, he’s never liked reading as an activity (he has no reading comprehension unless it’s something short he reads to figure out something he’s interested in). He loves being read to at bedtime. Only at bedtime. And in the recent past, he was interested in listening to me read adult books; not children’s. So last winter we read “Doce Cuentos Peregrinos” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (his pick from our bookcase); my voice attempting not to signal in any way when I read really adult passages –since he doesn’t follow the story details or the meaning of the sentences as I read. At that time, he had tiny occasional sparks of comprehension, but any conversations we had about the stories were prompted by the recaps I’d offer or he’d request in order to catch up with my reading.

Since then we took a break from bedtime reading, but in late July I picked it back up. Reading to Joaquin at night means getting cozy in bed with him, having fun conversations, and enjoying very focused attention and deep connection with him. So we started reading “Born on a Blue Day” by autistic savant Daniel Tammet. Also, this time was accompanied by a flurry of books I got from the library and started reading on weekends, week nights, and some times portions of our day together. It must have caused an impression to see me in such intense reading activity, since he quickly became interested and started imitating the whole process of going to the library to pick up a book previously put on hold.

One fine day, as I picked up “How Children Learn” by unschooling pioneer John Holt, Joaquin announced that he needed to pick up a book he had put on hold too. He got “Dog Days” from the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” collection. What happened next marked the beginning of a very exciting development in reading and reading comprehension which went through significant expansion for the last weeks, and now seems to be integrating and on a learning rest:

Aug 12. Spontaneous Spark of Motivation

Every single day I am noticing one or two significant changes in Joaquin. Today involved more progress swimming (he’s finding a way to organize the movement), and something OH SO INTERESTING in the afternoon…

Even though Kiki has been able to read since he’s three (he pursued this skill with passion for a full year), he doesn’t like reading as an activity, and has no reading comprehension. And, in the past, when I have heard him read something longer than a sentence or two from a book, I’ve noticed that when he finds an unfamiliar word, he’ll sort of guess it, and skip fast through it, like he’s in a rush to finish the whole thing, or perhaps not admit to himself that he doesn’t know how to deal with this one.

So what happened today was, I was laying on the couch with a blanket, ready to read “Teach Your Own” by John Holt, when Kiki joined me. Usually this means conversation instead of mama reading, so I mused out loud You know what would be so cool?… You and me on opposite sides of this couch, me reading my book, you reading yours, all nice and cozy under this blanket.

Well, for the first time ever, he thought that was a wonderful idea. He grabbed his Wimpy Kid and proceeded to read TEN pages of it aloud. Of course I didn’t read my book; I was mesmerized by this sudden development, and noticed that unlike past times, he was slowing down on tricky words, sometimes making a big effort to figure them out as he sounded the letters, sometimes tempted to rush through them but spontaneously stopping himself and going back to the words. A few times, I asked him to spell me the word, so I could tell him what it was. It was so cool!

Aug 13. Sustained Motivation

Joaquin boy, right now, reading to himself in bed. For the first time. He did not want an audience (papa offered to listen to him), and I think that is soooooo fantastic.

Aug 18. Spontaneous Sparks of Comprehension

Reading comprehension is happening, people! It’s growing on its own!… Every day, little by little, and I think a quantum leap is about to burst or it just did.

For the last two nights, Joaquin has chosen to read to me “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” at bedtime rather than listening to me read “Born on a Blue Day”. Just like when I read to him, every once in a while I’ll make a small comment about what he just read (I act as if he’s understood everything, so I don’t attempt to recap for him), and we have a mini conversation about it. This usually involves big interest and many times, laughter.

Every night I’ve noticed that he has started to pick up things on his own, but a significant development happened last night. A few minutes after he read that “eventually mom and dad got sick of Manny’s crying”, he asked me in Spanish what disease mom and dad had gotten. At first I was confused, but quickly realized that he was picking on the sick of Manny’s crying bit. I didn’t even have to explain to him that this “sick” was not literal… When I repeated that it was Manny’s crying, Joaquin was quick to point out his discovery Ohhh!… they didn’t get sick… they were just tired of the crying. Can you picture my internal fireworks of excitement?

Then this morning, while I was making breakfast, I heard Joaquin reading on his own for a few minutes. He comes in the kitchen and informs me with a thrilled tone that while Wimpy Kid and his family were at the water park, they started feeling rain drops on their heads, and because of the rain they got stuck in a traffic jam.

AH HA HA H HA HA!!!!!!

Now he’s telling me that he wants to read the books on my night stand: First, “The Autistic Brain” by Temple Grandin, and my favorite (and he knows it) “Teach your Own”.

Aug 28. On With It

Joaquin finished reading his first full book last week. WOW! Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I will never forget you… And this week we picked up his next one, “Charlotte’s Web”. The more I read Holt, the more I recognize the truth I’ve always felt, the more evidence Kiki provides to confirm it, the more I remember this is how he’s learned EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Trust children to learn.

Sep 4. Rest

For the last couple of nights, Joaquin has asked me to read “Charlotte’s Web” while he listens. We must be hitting integration time and a well deserved and needed learning break, since I see his attention to the present reading is not as focused as in past weeks. He does like to comment a lot on bits he’s understood from previous nights, and Wilbur’s story has prompted some opportunities to learn a few aspects about animal life.

Asleep after reading Charlotte's Web

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