It has been a while since I have written a new blog post. I guess I’ve had a bit of writer’s block and couldn’t think of anything that I thought would be of interest to others. But someone asked me a question on Facebook, and it has given me some new ideas. So, thank you to that person who reached out to me. She wanted to know how I learned to spell before I knew how to express myself with typing. I didn’t start typing until I was around fifteen years old, but my relationship with letters goes back to almost the beginning.
I was between two and three years old when autism began declaring itself in me. I really can’t say if I was unaffected before that. My parents didn’t see any outward signs of it. Anyway, this is the same time that I was learning things like the ABC song and watching Toy Story. As autism took over, those things got trapped in what I would describe as a very sticky mind.
My mind seems to me like a spider web that captures my thoughts and suspends them in midair. I think most brains act as better filters or filers of thoughts and memories. Those brains file memories away in a deep recess somewhere and occasionally conjured them up after an appropriate stimulus. My brain doesn’t seem to have deep recesses, and my memories are always swirling on the surface. I remember things from very early in my childhood that others apparently can’t. It is a blessing but also a curse because all those thoughts are on a carousel in my mind that never stops circulating.
Anyway, letters occupied a large chunk of that space early on, and they became almost like friends or comfort items. I had bins full of plastic or wooden alphabet letters, and I knew every one of them, including what color they were and what set they came from. I would get very upset when any of them got lost.
When I started with ABA and began learning to spell simple words, I became even more fascinated by their power. I started thinking about letter combinations constantly and began experimenting with different sounds. I also began listening for new words or watching on building signs or billboards. I never had the patience to read on my own, but I was learning how to read in my mind just from my environment.
In school, my teachers tended to set the reading bar very low and never raised it by much because I wasn’t able to show them what I knew. But thankfully, my parents always read me age-level books which kept my mind stimulated and learning new things. I especially listened for new words and never forgot them. I figured out what they meant from the context and thought about how I would spell them. The alphabet has rules, and once you figure those out, most words make sense. Of course, the exceptions have to be memorized which I did once I started typing, either because my parents corrected me or I would watch the computer prompts as I spelled and then corrected myself as I typed.
I think most of us non-speakers figure out on our own how to read and spell long before we can actually teach our bodies to cooperate. That is why it is so important to assume competence and teach to our age level. It would avoid so many wasted years and a lot of frustration. I am proud to be part of a group of people who have shown such life resilience and am so happy that many of us are finding our voices. Hopefully by making our voices heard, things will be better for those behind us.
Thanks for reading.