A few days ago, when trying to round up all three kids for dinner, I realized that all three of them were doing the exact same thing---browsing YouTube. That was an amazing moment for me. Usually, I think of Janey as a whole separate category of the family. There's the boys, and there's Janey. That might have been the case even if she hadn't been autistic. She is a lot younger, and she is the only girl. But her autism sets her apart even more. The moments of her just being one of the gang are few. And they are great.
Last night, I watched Janey on YouTube for a long time, and I was amazed. She uses it with complete ease. She doesn't type in things to search for, but other than that, she can pretty much do everything the boys do---skip ads, rewind parts of videos, pick a new video from the ones offered, use the back button, make videos smaller or larger, make them louder or softer---all as easier (or more) than anyone could do. Her choice of viewing probably isn't typical for a nine year old---she loves The Doodlebops, Busy Beavers (a line of videos designed to teach English to non-English speaking kids), nursery rhyme videos, and my personal favorite, videos of people opening Kinder Eggs---but she watches them as intently and as addict-ly as her brothers do.
So why can she learn to use YouTube so easily and so well, when after 7 years at school, she has trouble naming letters, counting objects, speaking in full sentences, greeting familiar people? I think the difference is motivation. She is extremely motivated to use YouTube. It's highly rewarding---interesting videos she can completely control, millions of them at the end of a mouse. The rewards are immediate and pleasurable. Letters? Not so much.
The other answer is that she DOES know a lot of what school (and I) have worked to teach her, but she feels no need to let us know. Many people working with Janey have suspected she can read. I think she can, too---in fact, I KNOW she can read some words, because she can have two videos identical except for the title, and she knows which one is which. But she has little motivation to read, or to SHOW us that she can read. I think she might actually actively be hiding it. Several times, when we were not looking, she somehow got to a video that I don't think was one of the choices along the side picked by YouTube. I suspect, I really suspect, that she typed things into a search bar. I have no proof of that, but I have my suspicions.
So, how do we make use of the YouTube watching skills? That's the big question. More and more, my inclination is to NOT actively try to make use of them. She loves YouTube, I know she is learning from it, the videos she watches often are instructional type videos I couldn't FORCE her to watch if she didn't want to---maybe I just need to leave well enough alone. The past seems to support this idea. She hasn't learned the things we all have actively been trying to teach her, but she has learned with complete ease the things she wants to learn. So maybe time actively trying to teach her things is better spent giving her time to teach herself, and the tools to do so.
All of this being said, I will go back to the happiness of the moment of realizing that all three of my kids were enjoying the same thing at the same time. It was a special moment for me---one that for that moment anyway erased the divide that has always made it Janey and then the boys, and made it instead my three kids, the YouTube addicts.