A few days ago someone asked Emma, “How did you learn to read and spell?” Last night, in response to this question Emma wrote, “I learned by watching the words my mom read to me.” She went on to write, “I was able to read many years ago and could write, but didn’t have any way to show it.”
I asked, “Were you able to read as a very little girl?”
Emma wrote, “Yes.”
“As a toddler?”
“Yes,” Emma wrote again.
What is interesting about this is that for years, when Emma was very young, I assumed she didn’t like being read to because when I tried she would grab the book, insist on flipping the pages faster than I could read them, and generally seemed (to me) uninterested. But from what she wrote last night, it suggests I was incorrect about these early assumptions or at least was partly incorrect. I am no longer shocked by all that I didn’t understand. It no longer surprises me to find out, even now, how wrong I was and continue to be about so much when it comes to my daughter.
Because Emma did not sit quietly while I read to her, I thought she didn’t like being read to. Because Emma preferred holding the book and would turn the page before I had time to finish reading the words I assumed she wasn’t interested in the story. Because Emma protested if I tried to take the book from her to continue reading, I assumed she wanted to be left alone. Because Emma seemed distracted while I read, I believed she didn’t like the story, didn’t care for the book, didn’t like books in general.
How would I have viewed her various therapies, preschool, and later grade school, had we understood that she already knew how to read at such a young age? Our decisions on how to proceed, our opinions regarding what others told us, so matter-of-fact, so sure of themselves… who knew how wrong they all were? How wrong we were?
People say things like – parents know their child better than anyone. In our case no one knew our child better than anyone. We didn’t. All those therapists who worked with Emma didn’t. All her teachers, everyone who came in contact with her, not a single person during those early years ever said, “I’m guessing she already knows how to read” or “maybe she already knows, but we haven’t found a way to help her show us all she knows.” Emma’s need to move, her inability to consistently say out loud what she intends, her deep need for sensory input, her attempts to regulate herself, none of that was understood by anyone, including us.
Had we not begun to find ways for Emma to communicate through the written word, had we insisted on her “speaking,” we would continue to be in the dark. All the things emphasized in school for a child like Emma who is physically capable of articulating words made us believe spoken language was what we needed to concentrate on. What we are seeing is that the less we focus on her speaking and the more we focus on her writing, the more she is speaking.
“Hey Em, do you want to put the smaller string in your backpack, just so you have it?” I asked as we headed down to meet her school bus this morning.
“N” “O” Emma said, as she bounded toward the elevator.