I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s a fan of Facebook memories, right? For those of you non-Facebookers, every so often Facebook pops up an “on this day” xyz number of years ago and reminds you of a post you made way back when. It’s a delightful way to slip back in time and walk down memory lane. And given that we often share some of our most precious times in our lives with social media, the memories that tend to pop up are often meaningful.
Well, Facebook reminded me of this little ditty of Sullivan that I posted a year ago last week. Along with this picture I posted a commentary of how absolutely f-l-o-o-r-e-d I was that my sweet boy asked for salt on his beef. I was blown-away. I’ve talked about noticing the nuances of language development before, and how the little things are a super big deal when dealing with a child with autism or language development delays.
I can remember how happy we were. Both my husband and I looked at each other jaws dropped at this huge milestone. Our boy realized his beef was under seasoned and asked for salt! In one cohesive sentence, no less! It seems so simple to most people, but so much went into that sentence for Sullivan.
Oh baby. Look how far you’ve come.
I knew we’ve had some blockbuster gains over the last several months, but it wasn’t until seeing that Facebook post last week that I was able to realize just. how. FAR he’s come. A year ago, that sentence was HUGE. Now, it’s hard to remember what it was like when his expressive language was so simplistic.
I wrote a blog a couple weeks ago about the gains we’ve seen as of late so I’m not going to cover that here again, but instead I want to talk about why I think Fast ForWord has been such a game changer for Sulli. It’s taken me several months into the program to begin to wrap my head around it.
Filling in the potholes.
We started our Fast ForWord journey at the beginning with their “Language” series. Then moved onto the “Language to Reading” series. A few weeks ago as we started to near the end of the second stage of our Fast ForWord programming, I had one of our scheduled calls with our Educational Consultant. We were discussing how Sulli has been doing and the fact that he would be wrapping up the second series soon and moving on to Reading Level I.
She asked how I thought he was doing, and I told her about all of his incredible gains but mentioned to her that of all the gains that we are seeing, the one area that we hadn’t seen a lot of progress in was reading comprehension.
Well, she proceeded to explain some things to me that I just hadn’t considered before, or perhaps someone had explained to me before, but my brain was too maxed out on bandwidth at the time to absorb it. You see, keeping up with the multitude of challenges that face a kid with autism can suck up a parent’s brainpower like a turbo vacuum cleaner. At any rate, I’m happy I could hear it now because it was a big light bulb moment.
Listening, Language and Reading Comprehension
So I tell our Education Consultant about my concerns with his lack of progress with reading comprehension and she replies … well, yes, we haven’t gotten there yet.
She tells me to think of the brain like a road. And Sulli’s road has a lot of potholes. We don’t know where they’re all at exactly, but the work we’ve been doing with the first two series of Fast ForWord has been identifying them, and slowly starting to fill them in.
Once we fill in the pot holes, the road to reading literacy will be much smoother. It’s a very simple visual but one that made so much sense. I happen to live on an island in the Caribbean so I know a thing or two about pothole laden roads. And I know it is so much easier to coast over a filled in hole than constantly maneuver around them.
This is why Fast ForWord is so good. It addresses the core deficiencies. It finds the weak areas (or potholes) and strengthens them. It isn’t about finding a work around. Navigating a pothole laden road is exhausting and stressful, and when you nail one, it hurts like heck. I don’t want Sulli to always feel like he has to steer around his challenges. How much better to mend the hole and drive right over?!?
The Literacy Pyramid
This pyramid was shared with us as we were trying to better understand what is happening in Sulli’s brain as we move through the Fast ForWord program.
Now, many kids with autism have very scattered skills. One kid can be completely neuro-typical in one area, perhaps even more advanced than his/her age, but then can be years behind developmentally in another area. It can be so frustrating to witness brilliance in one area and know that the brilliance exists all over, but it’s locked away.
Autism is complex. I know some people with autism who can read and write with stunning form but can’t speak a single word. Others like Sulli, who were hyperlexic when they were young, meaning he could read well above average at age 3, but as he’s aged we’ve realized that his comprehension is vastly delayed compared to his fluency.
So there are certainly exceptions to the hierarchy of this pyramid, but in terms of what we’ve witnessed, the importance of the bottom layers have become crystal clear. Yes, Sulli can technically do all of these things, listening, speaking, reading and writing. But in order to move his language, reading and writing into the complex realm in which we live, we’ve got some serious work to do on the foundation.
It’s coming together.
All of the Fast ForWord exercises we’ve done to date have been ALL about listening. And clearly Sulli had a LOT of potholes in this department. He has always responded better to us, his family, because we’ve learned the best way to communicate with him. Our tone, pace and complexity of sentences … we’ve naturally modified for him. But guess what? The world outside our four walls doesn’t work that way.
We’ve been doing these exercises at least five days a week (more if we can) for the last four months and his auditory and language processing has sped WAY up. He is listening better, he is hearing more. Not just trying to string together bits and pieces of conversation, trying to keep up, but actually beginning to keep up! And because of this, we’ve seen an explosion in his speaking skills.
We recently moved into the Reading Level 1 exercises and while these games are a departure from the ones he’s done before, I’m enamored by how the program continues to break down small skills as building blocks to bigger ones.
If the first two series are any indication of Sulli’s continued progression, we remain extremely hopeful. We don’t just want Sulli to be able to read, we want him to enjoy reading and be able to get lost in the world of imagination great literature provides. We don’t just want Sulli to be able to write, we want him to be able to eloquently share his thoughts, feelings and creativity. And of course, we want him to be able to pour out his complex thoughts, emotions and questions though his expressive verbal language.
Baby steps turn into big steps. And before we know it, we look back and see how far he’s come.
Till next time,