At the start of the 21st century, it is expected that people can read. It is expected that, if they cannot read, they can be taught to read; it is just a matter of finding that right methodology, technology, curriculum, or glasses.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is thought (assumed) that being able to read is equated with 'what makes us human' but truly, it is presumed that people read. In age of texting and touchpads, reading, it could be argued, has become more 'fundamental' than ever.
What would Derrida say? Writing is more entwined than ever with speech and thought.
So there it is with Charlie. He keeps trying and we keep trying but reading eludes him. He knows the letters, mostly; he types them on the flat surface of his iPad keyboard, though still with a prompt from me so as to not confuse b and p and sometimes y and v and w (u seems all right, for the most part). But I wonder why didn't the Romans make the letters more distinct. There had to be other choices.
The other obstacle, as Jim observed the other day, is the flat surface that is the way you encounter letters and text in our world, once you've left the preschool age and stage. And Charlie takes his blue blanket, his clothes, a paper towel he's used to wipe the counter dry of water, into neat boulder-bundles. 'So he can see them' was Jim's positing and he knows, Jim has a hard time finding anything for the life of himself and anyone's efforts at organizing him don't help. (The real solution: Be alert all the time to where he last left something, which could be anywhere.)
Charlie's always had troubled with 2-d. I stopped showing him cartoons when he was 5 or so, if not younger. I could tell he simply couldn't follow the movements (all those animated cells) before him; he looked away after a minute or less. From the time he was 2, we had noted that he had extreme struggles recognizing drawings. We used photos for his flashcards and the little square cards in his PECS and picture-schedule books (in the age, which was not long ago, before mobile phones with cameras were common -- how easy it could have been). Also he had trouble with depth perception, evinced in the time it took him to learn to get down a ladder on a play structure. Eye doctors have found that he has trouble with convergence, with getting both eyes to look at the same thing at the same time, especially if it is moving. But I wonder if it may be eaiser for him to something real and moving than a drawing. Cows, horses, dogs in pictures can still all look alike to him.
So there is no enmeshment, imbrication, of writing and speech and thought for Charlie or at least no writing. Of speech, we can't be certain because Charlie has little. I mean, I think Charlie thinks in words but I don't, can't, know for sure; maybe he thinks in musical phrases, or colors or shapes, or moving images?
I also don't think we can say how much he is bothered by his text-free way of being. Of course, it's another way his options are extremely limited as far as future work and learning and all of it. It does mean he exists outside of and beyond the reach of contemporary cultures to a degree that, I suspect, many think a tragedy and travesty but that means he is free in ways that most could not ever imagine. You can't sorrow about the usual litany of 'things autism means kids will never do' -- graduate from high school, go to college, graduate from college, get a job, get a place to live, fall in love, get married, have kids, provide grandchildren -- if you're not worrying about contemporary culture and, even more, belonging to it and trying live a fixed narrative.
And not to romanticize Charlie into the embodiment of Rousseau's 'noble savage' in all his Schillerian naïvité. All of this high-falutin'-ness is beside the point, the very cultural trappings Charlie does not have to learn to let go of -- commodification, reification, commercialization, Disneyfication.
Words don't have to have anything with writing. They can exist as sound and phoneme, embodied only in voice and not set into the fixed forms of letters on a page. It means you've got have to have a strong memory or at least one that gets a lot more use because you're not setting things down on some physical entity, paper or rock or chalkboard, to remember. It means you're not going to study philosophy or not the tradition of it. It means music becomes much more important. I think it could also mean the sensory phenomena of the world mean more or don't have their meaning so overlooked and under-valued. Color, shape, placement of these and of objects and pattern mean not just a lot but possibly everything -- everything in your (immediate) environment means.
The deferment and différance that define language vs. writing in deconstruction: Always a problem for Charlie about language, that words (food, names of people, places and experiences) can be said and there is a deferral, a pause, a damned waiting before the goods are produced and made present.
Over the years, I have tried to write things out for Charlie, such as a schedule of 'what is to happen,' to help (I hoped) for him to get through a day. It's has never helped, or not as I thought it would, or made things worse. I can't say for sure if Charlie understood what a column of words was meant to represent. If he got the idea of them supposed to serve as a stand-in for him actually having or doing or experiencing what the words said as I read them out, the lack of immediate and obvious connection between lines and swirls on a piece of paper and what they signified was a killer. It enraged and perhaps all the more so because he needed me, mediating and moderating with my voice and a deictic finger, to make the page more than lines.
Homer might be a halfway point, or one for me, as Homer, whoever he really was or wasn't, knew and experienced his poetry -- epics -- without writing or certainly without any sort of ready access to it. I'm in danger of doing the whole Schiller naïvitizing thing with Homer -- but perhaps that's a sign of how we can't imagine a writing-less, reading-less world. Studying the things here around me, I'm getting a sense of the works and considering all the words there are to pour through in this early 21st century, it can be a relief.