Why I Think My Son Will Learn to Read

Had a good chat with the lovely and charming Christa from Hyperlexicon last night (probably right about the time Kristina C was calling me on my accidentally turned-off phone to find out the address of the noisy restaurant where we were having dinner).

Christa and I talked about reading and its facilitating role in teaching our children skills, about whether the autism awareness of our children's generation will result in more accepting peers than those of contemporary adults on the autism spectrum, and -- naturally -- about our sons' love of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Leelo has an interesting relationship with the collection of wooden Thomas trains he inherited from his big sister. He goes for months, sometimes up to a year, without touching them. But right now he is in a train phase, and for the first time has even been laying tracks and acting out scenarios. Several different sets of engines go on the tracks, round and round in a circle. Then, "Oh no!" and he knocks the engines over. Then, "the engines are tired," and they all line up. Then "bye bye," and they all go back in the bin.

Then he asks for a different set of engines, by names, to act out this cycle anew.

I have never once been able to trick him by substituting one engine for another. Every Thomas aficianado-by-parenting-proxy knows that a lot of the trains look alike, and soon learns to distinguish between Edward and Thomas, even without Edward's tender. But there are sets of identical twins and triplets in Thomas Land, trains and cars who are indistinguishable from each other with the exception of their names. Yet all Leelo has to do is see the name painted on the train to announce who it is. Donald, Douglas; Bill, Ben; Mable, Jane, and Ada. He has never once made a mistake.

Now, I don't believe this is reading in the traditional and certainly not in the phonetic decoding sense. This is associating a collection of letters with a certain object. This is a form, a very basic form, of sight reading. And if Leelo can learn that "BILL" means Bill and not his identical twin Ben, then I do believe that eventually, he will combine that ability with his increasing skill at categorizing objects like Food and Animals, and he will realize that "TRAIN" means trains. All trains. All those tired trains.

And he will be on his way to reading.

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  1. I think you're on to something here.

    Ben began to read in the same way - seeing whole words as symbols and connecting what he had memorized to those symbols. The phonics part came later.

    Like someone who has learned a song by ear and then sees it written out in musical form, there was sometimes a disconnect at first as he shifted from memory into decoding. He once gave me a confused look as a read the word "know" and he pointed to the K over and over saying "read!" It was as if he was saying, "C'mon, that word can't start with a K!"

    I think memory and recognition are the building blocks of reading for some children.

    I was so lovely to meet you at BlogHer and I can't wait to read more adventures!


  2. You are absolutely correct. Start reinforcing this NOW with Dolch Words.

    It is a set of words made by surveying books for various grade levels, and making sets of the most commonly-used words for each.

    Boy has taught himself words he is interested in, too, because he was hungry for pictures of his favorite things. "Danny Phantom", the, toy, story, Amblin, and so on.

    He is now spelling out words he wants to know how to say.
    I believe Leelo is entirely capable of this if he can read the names on his favorite toys.

    Something Boy had to teach US over and over until it took is that when he talks about something, no matter how strange or unlikely it seems, he is right. (e.g., a DVD set of "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest." Such a thing does not exist (legally), but he was convinced it was real, and I was convinced he was asking for something he *wished* was real. I had him Google it, and lo! he was correct.

    Welcome to an exciting new stage and new hope. Be able to read can unlock almost anything that has been written about.

  3. BTW, Google "Dolch Words." Somewhere in the links that come up is a site that shares them as printable PDFs, instead of charging sums for the resource.

    Much love to you!


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