Every year I have to attend an official placement review committee (IPRC) meeting regarding Johnny’s status in special education. Lots of good things were discussed but one thing really bothered me. I was told that Johnny’s reading level is at around mid-Grade 1 level even though he’s in Grade 3. I wanted to remind teachers and school board professionals that its pretty amazing he’s doing oral reading in Grade 3 because in Grade 1 he could barely speak in sentences that people understood because of Childhood of Apraxia of Speech motor speech delay. It is another reason why we push hard for lots of motor speech therapy to not only help with social communication but for literacy. But it was then a thought struck me and I challenged them with the notion that if his speech delay is a disability wouldn’t it stand to reason that what he reads inside his mind is at a different level? This is when things took a troubling turn.
I was told that they have tried to get Johnny to just look at a story and read it to himself and then later answer questions about it but he insists on reading it orally. Then one by one I was told by educators that it is a cognitive delay because he simply doesn’t understand what it means to read to one’s self.
I was stunned. Since when did being Autistic mean that you had intellectual challenges? I concede developmental challenges, learning challenges, and teachers on learning curve challenges. I would say that its the job of a teacher to find the best way to get the child to show what they know and also find the best way to teach to their strengths. I would suggest it’s always better to assume that the child can and not assume cannot.
I took a deep breath and told all the educators including board staff that I disagreed with them. I told them that if I go shopping I ask Johnny to pick the right package according to the description on the label (no pictures) and he does and then he asks me to clarify the French on the package (a Canadian thing.) At home when we use the PVR he reads the titles of the shows and tells me what he wants to watch. I was still told it was a development issue in terms of understanding what it means to read to himself.
Then I thought about the whole idea of “showing what you know” and l told them that Johnny always wants to please and he likes to be very exact and literal. I told them about a speech assessment he did last summer where he was suppose to repeat 50 words for the SLP so that she could collect data on his sound progress and deletions. He nicely refused to just say just the word and instead would quickly put the word in a sentence so he could show that he understood the word. At school he was taught that when they do the “word wall” they need to do this to show comprehension. The SLP was worried that she would not get through her list in 45 minutes and kept praising him but trying to re-direct him to do it her way. There was no budging him because he was determined to impress her and in the end he did it his way with all 50 words. I told the educators in the meeting that for so long he’s been in speech therapy learning how to speak and to say more then one word at a time that he was stubborn to show his speech therapist that he can do sentences easily now. I asked them what if he thinks if he reads silently to himself that the teachers won’t think he can read?
I realized that this was a fight to be fought another day.
So at home I asked Johnny about trying to read to himself and he told me doesn’t like that. “Why,” I asked?
“Mommy, I am trying to show that I can read. If I don’t say it they don’t know I can read it. I like to hear my voice so I can learn to talk better.”
I told him that’s fantastic and we are very proud of him but a new thing will be that he will have to do it to himself and then let the teachers ask him questions that way when he answers they know he has read the story. I let him mull that one for awhile.