At two years old, I started to learn to read, as I wrote about in my post Level Up: Learn To Read.
Verry merry berry early, I learned to read *apple* and *pear* and *cat* and *rabbit*, single words for single things, but I did not develop reading comprehension beyond the single word, single thing level for a verry merry berry long time to come. For me as a small child, that was alright, because although I did not understand the whole sentences, paragraphs, or stories that I was reading, I still learned a large vocabulary of words for things, and I still made the connections between words and things, and I still built the foundation for learning later to make the translations between my visual thoughts and the verbal communications that would allow me to offload my brilliant brilliance, for hours and hours and hours at a time, to my fellow Earthlings on Earth, the poor things.
For writing, things were much the same.
At three years old, I started to learn to write.
One day, my father doodled a doodle of a cat or a rabbit or something on an envelope or something, and I saw it, picked up a pencil, and doodled his doodle. Then, we ate some oodles of noodles for lunch and doodled oodles of doodles afterwards, some of which included words, which to me, as I doodled whatever he doodled, were no different from the small furrry purrry animalcules that he is still doodling all over envelopes to this verry merry berry day, while he is waiting for one of his extraordinarily slow, Luddite-endorsed thinking machines to recover from him stroking a key, any key, on its orderly array of mechanoreceptors.
For me, writing words was like drawing pictures.
I saw a picture of a cat, and I drew it.
I saw a picture of the word for a cat, and I drew it.
The way that I saw the word for a cat…
…was like the way that someone else would have seen the word for a cat…
…in a furrreign purrreign language that they didn’t understand…
…except as a picture, just as we all saw the picture of the cat, the small furrry purrry animalcule itself.
From reading and writing at the pictorial level of single words and single things, I made the connections between words and things, which was an important step for me to generalize an idea as simple as a cat from a picture of this cat, a picture of that cat, pictures of moar moar moar cats, the small furrry purrry animalcules themselves, all labeled by the picture *cat* as I saw it with my eyes and drew it with my fingers. I still didn’t talk or talk about cats, but I did build the foundation for learning to do that a few years later.
Just as parents should teach their awesome autistic children to read words as early as possible, so should they teach their children to write or type words verry merry berry early too. Regardless of whether or not the child speaks any words or looks anyone in the eye or points at anything, the parents should try to teach the child to read and write words. Reading and writing single words for single things were the first and second steps in language development for this awesome autistic child. For me, reading and writing came before listening and speaking, so not listening and not speaking do not mean not being able to learn to read and write words.
Want a non-verbal autistic child to learn to communicate and use language for communication?
Step 1: Read words.
Step 2: Write words.
If receptive language is bad through the ears, then try the eyes.
If expressive language is bad through the mouth, then try the fingers.
When I was little, I had atypically good motor skills for drawing pictures and writing words, but not all autistic children have those skills at those ages. Most typical children don’t either, but we now have the technology to bypass the majority of the motor skills deficits commonly found amongst autistic children and children in general. Instead of writing, a child can type. She can see a picture of a cat and admire it. She can see a picture of the word for a cat and type it.
In the beginning, her fingers can be guided to the keys on the keyboard, but hands off as soon as she starts pecking with some accuracy herself. I was a small child in the olden times of the 1980s, so I did not have access to these new-fangled thinking machines with their orderly arrays of mechanoreceptors, but I could have learned to type words on a keyboard just as well as I did learn to write words with a pencil. All I had to do was to match the letters in the words that I saw to the letters on the keyboard. That was within my abilities as a non-verbal autistic child who did not have much in the way of language, communication, or joint attention. I did not look at things that people pointed out for me to look at, but I could have looked between a flashcard and a keyboard just fine. I did not point at anything for anyone else to look at, but I could have moved my fingers around the keys on a keyboard just fine.
When I saw these pictures…
…I could have typed the words to go with them just fine.
I could have typed the words, and typing the words would have solidified the connections between the words and the things in my mind, the connections encoded through my eyes and my fingers. By seeing with my eyes, I would have learned to read words as labels for things. By typing with my fingers, I would have learned to write and spell them too. Later, in school, I was always verry merry berry good at spelling.
Once I had made some progress in typing, anyone who had tried to move my arm or hold my hand or guide my fingers or provide any push or pull in any direction or interfere in any way with my extremely enjoyable, independent activity of extremely enjoyable, independent typing, would have been deservingly met with some minor violent act, such as me slapping their dirty paws off my dirty paws and my soon-to-be-dirty keyboard not to be dirtied by their dirty paws, but only mine, Mine, MINE, MY PRECIOUS, everyone else, HANDS OFF!!!
At a young age, autistic children can be taught, and so learn, to read and write words, the first and second steps in language development.
What is this thing? Do you remember the word for it?
She remembers and types the word for this thing, knowing that the word goes with the thing.
Rinse’n’Repeat, many many many times, to learn a vocabulary of words, the foundation for language development.
Once, I asked a professional in the field, a speech and language pathologist, if she or her colleagues regularly used this technique to teach kids like me to read and write words. She told me no, that this technique was not regularly used in speech and language therapies for autistic children. In fact, she said that she had never used it herself. According to common practice, autistic children were not taught to read or write words, because it was commonly believed that they lacked the ability to learn or use language for communication. For this, the words are “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
For me, these words did not apply, because I learned to read and write many many many words before I learned to speak, communicate, or use language for communication. I learned to read and write at the single word, single thing level, before I learned to read at the level of sentences, paragraphs, stories, office products catalogs that I like to read in the bathroom, or scientific publications that I like to read in my bed, the bester to fall asleep faster. If someone had tried to teach me to speak or communicate or use language for communication before I had learned to read or write words, then I don’t know what would have happened with me. Maybe I would have learned just fine, but maybe I would have been super duper confused. Perhaps I would have gotten it after awhile, but perhaps I would have struggled forever. Possibly everything would have been the same for me today, but possibly everything would have been different. Who knows? I don’t, because that is not what happened with me.
What happened with me was that I learned to read and write words in the way that I learned the bestest…
…me seeing the words as pictures just as I saw the pictures as pictures…
…and me drawing the words as pictures just as I drew the pictures as pictures.
Pictures of cats and pictures of the word for a cat.
Pictures of rabbits and pictures of the word for a rabbit.
As you can see, I had a lot of fun doing it too, both then, when I saw and drew my words as pictures, and now, when I type my words to tell my stories on my blog, mine, Mine, MINE, MY PRECIOUS!!!
Everyone else, HANDS OFF!!!
Please refer to my post The Magical World Of Make-Believe, if you are wondering why I am so skeeery-looking in my picture, skreeemy-looking with my words, and impersonating the dentist of your dreams, your really really really bad dreams.