There is that in me – I do not know what it is – but I know it is in me.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
– Selections from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
Time and again, I’ve encouraged everyone whose child is significantly developmentally delayed to take all their “What Your Child Should be Doing at 142.234505 Weeks” books and chuck them out the window. Don’t even give them to other parents. If you feel guilty about this, recycle them and be good to the earth or something. Personally, I think it’s best to get an oil drum, throw all of them in along with pictures of Dr. Spock and Butthead Bettelheim, and set the whole damn thing on fire.
Still, with our revelation that J-Man is recognizing printed words (typing ‘reading’ is still hard to get used to!), it did get us wondering, Is it ‘normal’ for your average 3.3-year-old child to be doing this? His teacher gave a succinct reply, “Um, no.”
The thing is, I have absolutely no context for what ‘typically developing’ children do anymore.
All I remember is that I did some pretty weird stuff when I was little, and that’s about all I’ve got here to work from. At age 5 I was reading “Your Friend, The Atom” and “The Field Guide to the Solar System” (for reasons beyond ‘Uranus’ being funny).
OK, I confess. I can be really nerdy. This doesn’t come as a shock to a lot of people. Save for having an acute awareness of social situations (albeit with a marginally-adequate level of social skills) and a couple of other things, I’m probably somewhere well along the spectrum to being Aspie probably. It makes me think that J-Man had no small amount of genetic help from me.
Anyway, so even looking around for “when does a child normally do what J-Man is doing now?” has been rather fruitless. I did find some before, but those only fill in a little bit here and there. Based on other parents I’ve talked to, the approximate answer is “not for a long while” apparently.
This is where we remind ourselves of one major principle for tracking the development of an autistic toddler and preschooler. There are likely to be wild spikes on their development chart, if it’s even possible to graph anything on the chart at all with anything that doesn’t completely defy the laws of statistics. This is made even more confusing to us as parents given our kids’ tendency to have these occasional quantum leaps in development that come seemingly out of nowhere.
Our kids could be years ahead in one area and years behind in another. Right now, in recognizing letters and words, he could be two maybe three years ahead, but in speech and communication he’s closer to two years behind. The average kids in your neighborhood probably meander around the middle of the curve with some peaks and valleys in some areas where they are more gifted or more challenged. Not us.
At this point, I think the practical issue I’m looking at is how to try to leverage his strengths – not just with letters and words but other areas too – to help him improve and overcome challenges in other areas. If he can learn to draw on these, at least in my mind, he can gain some confidence and footholds into overcoming the challenges he faces and will face down the road. We’re still in that phase of near disbelief that he can do some of the things he does to know what exactly to do with all this, though “just enjoy it, stupid” comes to mind.
I don’t know how a minimally-verbal child who can’t communicate with his peers in the neighborhood – or sometimes not even acknowledge they are there – can already do things none of them can or will for a while. The mind is an awesome, unfathomable thing.
I’m terribly curious and fascinated to know what is actually going on, but dwelling on it brings about the same problems dwelling on all those development books does. You get so hung up on statistics and calibrating against everyone else in the world that you forget the whole point. Your child is unique in all the world; enjoy them for who they are and be completely captivated by the wonder of being their parent.
I guess the real question is, does this spiky graph thing really matter beyond intellectual curiosity? If you made me decide, I’d say no. So, with that, we take the nearest exit and get back on the road less travelled. See you out there.