My son Lincoln turned 7 in January and is currently in grade one. When he started the year his teacher had him sitting at a 1-2 level for his reading ability.
We decided it was strategic to continue learning daily through the summer as Lincoln has a really hard time with transitions and changes. Once he got into the swing of school in Senior Kindergarten I was reluctant to allow a break and give an opportunity to have him lapse back into the dislike of attending studies.
I didn’t press learning too hard. What I decided to do was simply dedicated 5-10 minutes a day to education. Since my son is very material/possession motivated I made up a reward system for learning.
I would introduce 5 word cards at a time ( these are the little flash cards teachers have for school or what I’ve heard some teachers refer to as ‘popcorn’ OR ‘sight words’ and once he could correctly identify all five I awarded him a ‘star’. It could take any amount of time to learn these. One day, one, week, one month. Up to the child.
Once he knew the 5, I then added 5 more. Once perfected, one more star. You get the idea.
After 5 stars I allowed Linc to buy one toy under $10. This worked for us because then we did not buy him anything “just because” (He is pretty persausive so it gave us an excuse not to) and he felt proud to earn his new toy.
I figured I might get him to learn 15-25 new words by summers end.
What ended up happening is this:
Within 6 weeks he had learned 50+ new words and was going strong. I had also taught my newly turned 5 year old the same amount of new words and 10 or so to my 3 year old.
I spent less then 10 minutes a day on reading and printing but got Lincoln to improve his writing and he could now spell our complicated last name and knew our address.
If he had a bad day (no focus, lots of distractions and was weepy and complaining) I skipped it. No loss, no foul.
I did not see a vast improvement, but there was some. The reluctance to complete school work was fading away and for this alone I deemed the process a success.
When he started grade one he was quite a bit behind the typical functioning children but we still felt he was ok and were open to letting him mature and grow without a lot of extra work.
Now, this might sound like we were shirking off our parental duties and that we SHOULD have done more extra work with our child to get him up to par. WELL, in a normal world, Sure.
With an autistic child there is this really fine line between success and utter meltdown and defeat. REALLY, REALLY fine. microscopic. But it is like incinerating something…once it is gone, it’s gone folks! Game over.
With my son, if you push too hard, too soon, or too fast weeks and months of effort can be swiftly erased. It’s like building a house of toothpicks when someone suddenly opens the window in a wind storm. WHOOSH!
I am fortunate to have a good intuition and I can feel these moods. When he is like this I might read to him or skip lessons all together. I don’t offer the excuse to my boy (he is good at seeing opportunities, and if given an out, he will repeatedly try to take it!) but I will just quietly move to something else and try the next day.
So anyhow, the school year started and we did the home reading as requested by the teacher for all the students and we continued to post new words (thought not as many or as often) and we always read a story each night before bed. Nothing extra, nothing above the norm. We did the same for our typical functioning 5 year old in SK.
IN late February (about half way through the year) I sat one night after dinner going quickly over his home reader (Being a busy working Mom of 4 I sometimes forget to do reading every night or just have little time for it) and as I half listened my brain started processing something that made me sit up and pay more attention.
“Wait! read that line again, honey” I asked.
Lincoln sighed and read it again.
“Did Mrs P read this with you?” I ask, a little perplexed not really understanding what my mind was catching on to but slowly starting to hear the wheels turn.
“No. Not this one, it is new.”
“Read it again?”
Another sigh. I was really testing his patience.
“Linc!! that is amazing! You are really reading it!”
“NO, I mean, you can read!”
“Can I go?” His eyes meet mine.
“Yes, great job honey!”
He CAN read! not he is learning, he gets it! Some thing has changed! Last week, he pecked away at the words, this week it is fluid. He can read. AMAZING!
I quickly jot down a note to his teacher asking where he should be, what the norm in for kids in his class. And head upstairs for bath time.
The next day I get the best news Ever.
Lincoln was retested and his reading level is now 9-10! His peers are averaging a level of 11-12, so he is only one level behind!
I don’t know how the autistic brain works, but from what I can gather things “CLICK:”. It didn’t matter how much we pushed or didn’t push, it would happen at its own pace.
What we could control though, is how our child felt as he worked toward this occurence. I could have pushed, pushed pushed and made him feel like a failure or like he was disappointing OR I could nurture and ber patience until he got where he needed to go.
It is sooooooo worth it and when your child gets there it is better than anything in the world.
You need to think out of the box, you need to see the Autistic mind is a wonder and you need to let it teach you to gain insight.
I am so proud of my boy. He works so hard and wows me all the time 🙂