Sweet M's IEP for the current school year calls for her to be reading at a K.5 level by the end of the year—the end of what would be second grade, if we were counting.
As disappointing as this goal was to me—chronic reader that I am—it seemed appropriate enough since she wasn't reading at all last year. But as a person who makes my way through life reading, the idea that my daughter might not ever read at all, let alone read with pleasure, was weighing heavily on me.
Although I know M has been doing better in reading since we recognized that this was a reading emergency and started a sight word program at home, I was curious as to how her teachers thought she was doing and was looking forward to the parent-teacher conference.
M, the teachers reported, is now reading at an early first grade level. She's done a years worth of reading instruction in four months.
Her reading teacher described how she—the reading teacher, not Sweet M—started to cry in a recent reading lesson because M had gone from reading nothing at all to reading full paragraphs in a matter of days. Seeing something like this, she said, is the reason you do this sort of work.
Although I will probably forever wonder why M spent two years struggling—herself crying—with the Wilson Fundamentals reading program before her teachers switched to a sight reading program combining the Swain and Merrill approaches, I am grateful that she is, at last, learning to read.
M has taught us that she is completely capable of learning to read—once we learned how to teach her.
That got me thinking about how much more I learn about her every day. Every time I think I have a handle on her ASD-ADHD-OCD-ODD-PDD, NOS I learn something new.
The latest thing I've learned is that M, though fairly well coordinated, has a visual problem with what her eye doctor calls "crossing the midline." When she was having her eyes examined recently, the eye doctor asked her to track a light without moving her head. In the process the doctor and I could both see that at the point where the eyes need to track across the center point of the visual field, her eyes stop, ever so slightly, until she can refind the spot. Her right and her left brain don't communicate with each other with the ease that we NTs apparently have. And, of course, this can have implications for ease of reading because it will be difficult to keep your place if you lose your focus or tracking right at the center of your visual field.
This anomaly would also explain a rather astonishing result on her recent neuropsychological tests. On a test of fine motor skills called the Purdue Pegboard test, Sweet M, to my complete surprise, scored in the lowest percentile (<1) when asked to put pegs in a pegboard with her right hand (her dominant hand) and left hand separately. Since fine motor skills have never been a huge problem for her, this was shocking.
But what was really amazing was that when asked to perform the test using both hands at the same time, she scored in the 61st percentile, or slightly above normal. What to make of this? I'm not completely sure, since I didn't see the test protocol, but my guess is that when she had to cross the midline (use her right hand to perform a task on the left side of her visual field) that it was nearly impossible for her to do the task. But when she could use both hands, it was a breeze.
All of this reminds me of a book that was popular back when I was in college: Julian Jaynes's The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes's book was controversial at the time, and isn't tremendously fashionable now, but essentially he argued that consciousness (we might add, NT-consciousness) developed when the mind adapted and started communicating more fluidly across the brains' hemispheres. Perhaps, this suggests to me, that at least some of M's problems with so-called "theory of mind" and language processing have to do with this bifurcation of her brain.
But reading books—my most recent stack is pictured above—and spinning out theories is easy when compared with reading what is actually going on for our kids.
Sweet M has been being tested and retested for more than five years now. How, I asked myself, and I asked her OT as nonconfrontationally as I knew how, could this "crossing the midline" problem have gone unnoticed—not just by the OTs, but by the dozens of others who have examined her over the course of these years.
Well, her OT said, probably because we couldn't get her to follow the directions, so we couldn't fully test her. In short, we couldn't read her because we couldn't reach her.
We have to reach farther. We have to read more carefully.
Keywords: autism • Asperger's Syndrome • ADHD • learning disabilities • special education