If some children with autism have hyperlexia--a "precocious ability to read words" and an "intense fascination with letters or numbers "--Charlie could be said to have a sort of "hypolexia." While he has long been obsessively interested in numbers (but not in using the numbers for something like arithmetic), he has always been less than "fascinated" with letters and, with just two more weeks before his 9th birthday, he is still working his way slowly but surely through the pre-reading exercises of the Edmark Reading Program.
Our expectation for Charlie is that he will learn to read, when he is good and ready. For the past two years, I have not been able to read Charlie a book; he would twitch and babble and soon be racing up and down the room. When he was younger, Charlie used at least to sit and identify colors or letters that I pointed to; when he was not a year old, he would even page through piles of books (I am not sure how much of the content he was actually taking in).
This morning I read Charlie two books, pointing to words, and asking him to identify letters. The books were Sylvia Long's Hush Little Baby and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Hush Little Baby is an adaptation of the "Hush Little Baby, don't say a word" nursery rhyme, with cozy drawings of a mother bunny and child bunny, and Charlie repeated a number of words based on the rhythm of the lines and the ending rhymes:
If that evening star should fly, Mama's going to show you the evening----"
"Sky," said Charlie.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom's use of repetitive, rhythmic language, bright colors and simple drawings, simply constructed sentences, and a story line involving climbing and (even better, from Charlie's perspective) falling down (Charlie used to laugh hysterically when watching Teletubbies videos and when Po and company would each fall down and laugh with legs flapping). No character development or confusing emotional/social relationships, just strings of letters going up and down.
I pointed to the letters and Charlie read them.
"A, A" (Charlie). "Told. What letter is it?" (me) "D, B. B" (Charlie). "And" (me). "Beee!" (Charlie). "Told" (me, tapping the page). "Ceee" (Charlie). "'I'll meet you at the top of the co-co-nut----" (me). "Tweee" (Charlie).
And, "Chicka Chih----" (me). "Chicka Chicka Boo Boo!" (Charlie). "BoommmMMM" (me). "Boommmmm" (Charlie). "Will there be enough----" (me). "Woom" (Charlie).
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, will there be enough room." "Chicka Chicka 1-2-3, will there be a place for me?" I kept recalling those signature lines from both "Chicka Chicka" books, and could not help thinking,
Will there be a place--room--for Charlie?
Charlie may be little--lower-case c now, but what about when Jim and I--big, capital D and M can't come running when the coconut tree falls down?
And that worry is why we have those high expectations for Charlie, who will have a good many years of his life to live as big, capital C without M and D.
Free time when he is not in school has been more and more a challenge for Charlie. Over the past year, he has filling his with stimming, had various behaviors during the stimming, and then a lot for everyone to sort out. On weekends, Charlie oftenn requests "green car" and "black car" constantly. I suspect it is not simply that he wants to get out of the house, but that, when he is in the car, he knows what to do and where he is going to end up, clear and simple.
This morning we heard Charlie singing cheerily, rolled over, and then ran at the sound of a cry and four knocks. From the sounds Charlie makes on waking, he seems happy--then "he remembers a reason not to be," as Jim speculated.
Charlie immediately started calling for both cars and I ran to my file of photo cards and showed him a line of pictures; Charlie looked, frowned, listened. Jim decided they could do an early trip of errands and I read Charlie the two books before Charlie, as directed, ran upstairs to choose a pair of pants and a shirt, put on his shoes, and hopped in the green car. Jim came out of the house brandishing an old tape cassette.
"Jimi Hendrix!" he said, popping it in, to Charlie's and my amazed eyes (For the past few years, Charlie has become "famous" for finding cassette tapes and pulling out the tape.) Charlie listened to that tape, sitting in the front seat, on that trip and on two more to the recycling center. Inbetween, Jim mowed the lawn and I weeded and we swept up clippings and, hands over his hands, I tried to show Charlie how to use a broom.
"Dad needs his hat!" I said. Charlie twisted his head, ran into the house, and came out with his fleece hat which he (as I asked) offered to Jim.
"That's yours, pal," said Jim, raking, and Charlie pulled on his hat and rolled up the brim above his eyes. As Jim and I were filling the bin, Charlie bent down and scooped up clippings and put them in, too.
"Maybe we should get a lawn service," mused Jim, sneezing with allergies. "Yeah," I said. "But it'd be good for Charlie to learn to mow and clean up and everything." Jim agreed. He dragged out his and Charlie's bikes and Charlie ran out with both bike helmets and off they rode. Since neither Charlie nor I were sick anymore, we made the 45-minute drive for his verbal behavior session--tons of talking--and then stopped in a neighboring town for "buh-eetoes" (Jim would ordinarily have accompanied us, but he had to attend a dinner with colleagues from work).
I parked a few blocks from the restaurant and glanced at Charlie's and my nearly-same-size reflections in the shop windows. We passed some young couples, the women walking gingerly in severe stilettos.
"I'll have two dates at least on Saturday nights," I thought. Then said, "Charlie, you can hold the bag with both hands! It's easier that way."
After eating and his shower, Charlie unzipped the slipcovers from the couch cushions to reveal the soft-scratchy stuffing. He curled up in his dog sleeping bag and his furry blanket, in his Charlie-made sensory spot, and did not object when I sat down beside him.
There can be enough room, and a place for Charlie.