Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Why I'm still hanging around on street corners (with my autistic son)

Boy with autism copying letters on street sign

I spent more than a few minutes in the last few years hanging around on street corners. And all because it's one of the places our son David, who is autistic, engages with written words. 

David interacts with the world around him differently to many seven year old boys. He's not interested in the same things, finds it difficult to follow simple instructions and, to put it frankly, doesn't really talk.  David is pre-verbal and may stay that way, continuing to be one of the 25% of autistic individuals who are non verbal. 

David started school three years ago and since then they (the professionals that work with him at school) have realised he also has verbal dyspraxia.  This means David not only often doesn't see the point in talking, but actually moving his mouth to make the shapes to form letter sounds is really difficult too.  So even if he does try to talk it's really difficult to figure out what he is saying.  

After a year at school I considered,  how is he going to read or write when he doesn't talk and finds interacting and learning difficult?  Most kids start with phonics..what about David?

He's always had good number recognition and can count using his fingers and some verbalisations to 20.  He can also match these numbers to values. School have worked very had to helping him make different sounds and engaging him in 'pre-writing skills'.  He's been semi-forced to make shapes in every material you can think of; sand, gloop, glitter, foam, slime, paint, flour, sugar, dirt, you name it. But I've never seen this materialise into anything until the start of the summer. Then there was a sign of change.

It was my husband's birthday.  We got a cake, and stuck to the rules and routines about Birthday's we have in our house with autism.  ''HAPPY BIRTHDAY' was emblazoned in bright multi-coloured capital letters across the plain white icing. We blew out the candles and then stood in amazement as David traced over the letters one at a time.

Before he'd got to the end of the line I stood in front of David, and spoke the letter signs whilst making the Makaton signs for the letters.

"tu, hu, du, aaah"

And then David said "a"

Not strong "aaah", just a little "a"

We gave him a high five.

We started stopping at road signs, hanging around on street corners while David and his younger sister trace over the letters.  And as they do I make the phonic letter sounds and then echo them. 

After that he also started to label the letters using their names too.  I found this surprising and it was obviously something he has been taught at school.  And then started to recognise words.

One day as we were stood by a road sign and David had finished saying the letters he then underlined the last word with his finger and said:

"Row-d"

A million high fives.

It's difficult sometimes to see his progress but he makes steps all the time and I'm not always aware of them.  Hopefully this is one step further on towards more verbal talking, reading or writing.  But we will have to see. 

If you think we are weird hanging around on street corners, or behaving oddly in public have a read of this letter I wrote to those who would be disturbed by my kids on public places.

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What is Autism?
It's so much I couldn't possibly try and explain. For us it's wonderful and heart-breaking. Joyous and truthful. But as far as diagnosis is concerned, why not have a look at the National Autistic Society for their definition of Autism.
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