Whoa! Lookee here: A blog! With my name on it! Imagine that!
For the first time in, well, fifteen months, I'm staring at my little expanse of blogspace here and thinking of all the things that I could say to fill it up. I've got quite a story to tell. It's epic. Profound. Life-changing. You might not even believe it. There are times when I'm in a state of sheer disbelief, myself.
So that's what I'm going to do: tell the story. At least the parts of it that I know. You see, it's still unfolding and every day things are both a little more fantastic and a little more clear. But it has not yet ceased to be amazing. And I want to tell it because I think maybe what is happening inside the walls of our little green house might be useful in some way to other people.
A year ago, I quit the blog. It wasn't anything I'd thought about. I didn't sign off in any thoughtful or dramatic way. I just quit writing. I suppose I expected that I would post again one day but for one reason or another I just didn't.
Writing about our journey with autism had always helped me process the experience, to sort out the complicated mix of thoughts and emotions. But in that year prior to my last entry, I was having trouble figuring out how to write about something. Twice that year, I had been gently told by people whom I trusted (our developmental pediatrician and the school psychologist) that I should start facing the fact that Oliver was intellectually disabled and that -- I'm paraphrasing here -- I shouldn't expect very much from him. You see, at the age of eight Oliver was still only able to communicate at the most basic level. And he was never able to demonstrate much intellectual ability through any kind of testing. I went through a bit of a crisis at the time. It wasn't that I would love Oliver any less if he had a greatly diminished capacity to learn, it was more that I just didn't believe it -- despite the fact that there was so much that Oliver could not or would not do. But for the first time in the five years since we learned of his autism, I started questioning what I believed to be true about Oliver: was all my faith, hope and optimism built on the blind love of a mother? It was a rough couple of months for me. I was a complete fool.
Somewhere along the way, mid-year perhaps, I came to my senses and just decided to let it all go. The tests, evaluations and learned opinions of professionals had never really been of much use to us. In the end, we just have to go with the boy in front of us and help him achieve to the best of his potential. Even if they are right, I decided, it doesn't change a thing about how we think about today and tomorrow.
I'm not even sure how to continue this story. Because, you see, one thing almost certainly doesn't lead to the next in this amazing tale. Telling you of our homeschooling efforts, for example -- the weeks and weeks of labored progress with the Bob Books series and my excitement over Oliver's slow but growing phonemic awareness -- would only be a red herring. So instead, I'll just tell you the story of the day at the end of March 2012 when I put the pen in Oliver's hand. I needed to do something different that day. I was bored with all the things we had been doing and thought we might work on copying. Oliver was pretty good at tracing shapes and letters, but he has never been able to draw one on his own. If you put a writing instrument in his hand and asked him to draw a square, he might start off accurately but then inevitably end in random scribbling, not able to finish the shape.
But on this day, something slightly different happened. I wrote out 6 or 7 letters of the alphabet and told him we would practice writing them. I left my hand cupped around his to help him remember to rest his hand on the paper as he wrote. And do you know? The boy seemed to write beautifully and with great ease. I wrote out the numbers one through ten and he did it again. I wrote out: "My name is Oliver," and he did it again. I was buoyed and excited but I didn't want to push it. But each day I challenged him a little bit more.
After two days, I realized he didn't need to copy my sentences. If I kept my hand very lightly cupped over his, he could write whatever I asked him to. Soon, I was writing out questions, helping him read them aloud, and growing more and more astonished that he could answer my questions in writing with perfect spelling, perfect grammar. Not long after that, I realized that Oliver could read much, much more than he could say. It was a Saturday morning when we had the exchange pictured below and our lives have not been quite the same since.
I'm not sure where all this is going. It feels pretty remarkable. Three weeks ago I wasn't even sure if Oliver knew his last name. Two days ago he read a book about dinosaurs and explained to me, in writing, what the word extinct means.
The funny thing is, as I reflect on it tonight, our life hasn't really changed all that much. Suddenly we know that Oliver knows a good deal more than we thought he did. Each day we're astounded by what he is able to communicate through writing. It feels pretty good to have my belief in Oliver finally validated in a way that the rest of the word values even though I wish I could say that I don't give a shit. But we still feel like we're flying by the seat of our pants with this little guy.
Lucky for us, he sort of seems like he knows what he's doing and is very tolerant of his befuddled parents.