Thursday, May 9, 2013

Can Janey Read?

Janey's ABA instructor today brought up a topic which is something I wonder about now and then.  Can Janey read?  It seems unlikely.  She doesn't know her letters consistently, at least that she ever lets us know, she doesn't speak in full sentences for the most part, and any testing that has been done on her in terms of IQ or functioning level has put her in the severely intellectually disabled range.  But sometimes, there are tantalizing little hints that she might be able to read, at least some.  

Mr. Ken, the ABA instructor, told me about a program on the iPad Janey was using the other day, one that asked to identify objects both with spoken instructions and words on the screen.  He said the sound was turned down, but Janey was getting the answers right.  As we talked, she jumped on the iPad and went to a program which asked her to pick which of 4 scoops of ice cream was the vanilla scoop, again, without sound, and she picked correctly immediately.  Yesterday, one of her classroom teachers wrote that when they spelled out "C-O-O-K-I-E", Janey understood and said "Do you want a cookie?", meaning, of course, that she wanted a cookie.  And over the past year, we've seen little hints of reading, like Janey knowing the difference between videos that were identical except for the name of the video, like Disney sing-a-longs.

If you read all that, you might be thinking "well, it certainly sounds like she can read at least some.  Why does her mother sound so doubtful?"  I think there's a few reasons.  I am always VERY cautious about thinking Janey can do things that she can't.  I want to be sure before I believe.  That is my nature, I guess.  I'm skeptical.  Also, I know that our minds are primed to remember the good guesses and not the bad ones.  We remember all the times Janey seemed to be reading, and not the times she didn't have a clue what she was seeing.  And Janey is not hugely visual.  I think most of her learning is auditory, which would not make her someone, like a lot of kids with autism, that is cued into written words.  And there's her overall level of functioning.  Reading would be a huge step, like a child who had never sat up suddenly running.

But I know it's possible.  I know reading works in mysterious ways.  I have no idea how I learned to read, at 5.  I didn't learn via phonics.  Suddenly, I knew what the words said.  I still don't know how I read.  I do it automatically, and very, very fast---faster than anyone I know.  Janey might be a look-see reader like me.  She might have skipped steps along the way.  And in some ways, reading might be easier than talking for her.  It leaves out the social step, of having to communicate with another person.  You can read straight into your mind.  That also would make it harder to know for sure if she is reading.  Janey would not be inclined to want to impress us with her skills.  She has no desire to please anyone with what she can do.  If we figure out she can read, it might not actually change much, as I am quite sure she won't do it on command.  After all, she can also talk, but her talking is not really communicative, most of time.

With all that being said, I'd be thrilled if Janey somehow did learn to read.  More than almost anything, I can't imagine life without reading.  I read constantly, and I have since that mysterious day at 5 that I somehow started reading.  Reading is magical.  It's a dream I've had for Janey that I barely could let myself hope for.  And I still don't think it's going to completely come true, but even having it be a distant possibility is wonderful to dream of.


Sophie's Trains said...

I understand your scepticism but I think it does sound like she can. The times she "can't" are probably just times where she doesn't feel like :) things like cookies or videos are motivating remember. I wonder- what if you put a food she likes and a food she doesn't in opaque containers with just a label and asked her if she wanted a snack? Curious which she'd pick.
Have you had a chance to watch that documentary on Netflix yet? I have to say I was thinking about Janey and her seeming ability to read and if the rapid prompt method would work (Sophie is too young, I KNOW she can't read)

sara said...

Maybe Janey is learning to read by memorizing the way the whole word looks vs. learning the traditional building block way (learning what each letter sounds like, then sounding out a string of letters to read a word). She memorizes what that word looks like in the context of what it means, like maybe she has seen pictures of cookies next to the word cookie at various times in her life.

Antti said...

What sara said crossed my mind too. In that case you could maybe notice it if she makes a mistake. Like when my younger son confused the written name of a milk company to the word "milk" before he could read, seeing the name from a car window in a building.
Anyway, she seems to be more visual than meets the eye -recognizing written words, either hieroglyphically or in a building block way. She was not supposed to identify geometrical figures? This thing just so well points out how difficult it is to evaluate people, whose disability is not fully understood.
(Incidentally, your new title picture resonates well with the recent events!)