English Language Arts. Is it an art? Where does that come from? According to the American National Council of Teachers of English, the five strands of the Language arts are reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing (visual literacy). Put into perspective with a person with autism and the definition might was well read "NIGHTMARE".
I have heard the reports for years that Daniel's reading comprehension is at a 2nd grade level. His word recognition is always at least at grade level, sometimes higher. He has always been able to read the words, it's the understanding of the words that hasn't been so great. We have been focusing on Daniel's math for quite a while, he does better with one "push" at a time. The math has really clicked. He is working in a class that has a slower pace, but same content which is perfect for him. He is thriving. It is amazing. He is working independent much of the time and it is beautiful. He has A's. In PRE ALGEBRA. It is mind boggling. Now what? I say great, what about English? Will I ever be happy? There is always something to tackle. This 2nd grade comprehension really kills me. I mean how are you supposed to keep up with science when you can't understand the content of the language being thrown at you?
I have felt that he comprehends more than we know. Standard tests are, of course, not always the way to go with our kids. Daniel is in a resource English class this year. This is a new direction for him and for us. We really wanted to get him working on his comprehension to see what would happen. A lot of his academic goals are around ELA. I have been asking questions of the teachers and have been told, "he is fully participating, he is answering questions, he is "getting it"". How can that be when they are reading 7th and 8th grade books? I know he can read the words, but actually answering questions? That seems, well, unlikely. Don't get me wrong, I have confidence in his abilities, but it's going to take a while, right?
Last night I met with his case worker (who Daniel hugged upon their first meeting he loved her so much) and his English teacher along with yet another Michigan State Univ. intern. I love when the interns are at our meetings but wish I could crawl in their heads to see what they think of this crazy mom before them!? It seems that Daniel's most recent comprehension test put him at a 50% level for SEVENTH GRADE comprehension. Which I believe cute case worker said is average proficiency. 7th grade? That's the grade he's actually in! Is that possible? He has been tested other times this year and the last time it was at 6th grade. Now it's at 7th grade? She started at a 2nd grade level, he was at 90%, 3rd grade 80% + etc. It all made perfect sense, with each grade level up he went down slightly. BUT he is at a SEVENTH grade level. I have to keep repeating it to wrap my brain around it. They are using a different method of testing than they have in the past. It is more suited to him, and they think more accurate. We think that Daniel's verbal language difficulties have prevented him from showing us what he knows. This is not earth shattering, we knew that on some level. But I didn't expect that. Not at all. How incredible.
I was so happy. I am so happy. But as I think back and realize I didn't show it at all. They must think I'm an ice queen! But part of me wasn't um, well, comprehending the whole thing. His ELA teacher said, "I know you are concerned but he's doing incredibly well". She must be thinking I'm crazy since she has seen all of this growth. They ask him a question, he answers, (correctly and appropriately) I think she must be wondering what I'm concerned about. So I then explained that Daniel has been (on paper anyway) at the same reading level for freakin' ever. When he started ppi (pre primary impaired) (preschool for those with special needs) after the first day the teacher said, "can he read?" and I was all,"yeah". Completely oblivious to the fact that not every 4 year old can pick up a book and just read it. He'd been doing that for over a year at that point. I didn't know at the time that this was called Hyperlexia. The linked site defines it as a "precocious ability to read words far beyond what would be expected at an early age and/or a fascination with letters and numbers. These children have barriers with language acquisition and communication."....later it goes on to say, "Hyperlexic children follow a similar pattern of development. First words developed about 12 - 18 months, but approximately half of the children lose gained words and do not begin to regain them until after age two." It goes on to talk about how language is primarily echoalic and "chunks" and even whole conversations may be used in conversations. This is exactly what Daniel does. In fact the above all sounds exactly like they are speaking of him.
Speaking with my friend (thanks Amy!) I realize that my lack of enthusiasm regarding Daniel's excellent news, and my constant "what should we focus on next" is pretty much a self defense. I am protecting myself from celebrating because I know very easily today I could get a call that Daniel has banged his head so hard on a wall that he cut himself, or that he because so frustrated because someone did something like walk out of a room. I take my successes as I do with the frustrations, with a grain of salt and hopefully with a little tequila ;)
I am thrilled with his progress and I don't take it for granted for one second because I know there are many families who will not get this fabulous news. Because Daniel is who he is, we can continue to push him forward. He can slowly emerge from his shell. We are seeing a crack in that shell. I didn't know if I ever would. I am so proud of him. He is an amazing child.
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