Thursday, August 13, 2009

can i have a pig?

Martin is a terrific reader. Although he's going into kindergarten in two weeks, he already reads like a first grader. When we go to the library, he picks up biographies of presidents, Curious George books, and easy science primers and reads them easily. It's a real treat to see the pleasure he gets from reading. He likes books on CD best. He runs around the house imitating the voices. Lately, he mimics the main character in "Diary of Fly."

The question is how much of what Martin reads does he understand? Does he know what the words mean? Does he get the action of the story? Does he understand the different characters? Or does he simply memorize the sounds and repeat them back? This is a huge issue when trying to assess what autistic kids know and don't know. For instance, Martin once memorized an Animaniacs song that lists every country in the world. Part of the song goes really fast, so fast that there are moments that it sounds a little jumbled. If you actually know the names of the countries, you can figure out what they are saying. If you don't, it's just jibberish. For a few weeks last winter, Martin went around singing something we couldn't figure it out. Then we realized that he was singing the fast section of the Animaniacs song. When he sang the slow section, he got the country names right. When he sang the fast part, he just repeated the mixed-up sounds from the song. He couldn't tell the difference. He had no idea that he was singing one part right and the other part wrong. So did he really know the nations of the world?

I've wanted to introduce chapter books to Martin for awhile. We've debated whether he's ready, whether he'll have any idea what's happening in a book with a more complex plot. I've tried to read the first chapter of "Charlotte's Web" to him a couple of times. He hasn't registered much interest. Tonight, I tried again. He sat through the entire first chapter, where Fern saves the piglet Wilber from death and then feeds him breakfast from a bottle. I finished the chapter and looked at Martin. I fully expected a nonsequiter such as "I want some cereal" or "The zoo animals are sleeping." Instead, he turned his face to me and said, "Mama, can I have a pig?" He got it. HE GOT IT!


  1. Awesome! So are you going to get a pig???:)

  2. It's extremely impressive that Martin has the attention span to sit through listening to a chapter book. There are lots of 10 year olds who can't do that! I think he should get a pet pig as a reward. You know, since you don't have enough going on in your life...

  3. See, I have to agree. Clearly the boy needs a pig. And possibly a spider. Though I would draw the line at a cow, depending on exactly where you live.

  4. A pig. A pig! See, I think chapter books, movie, t.v., maybe all of it is just what he needs. (So the I think maybe should stand out in that sentence.) If what Martin works off in life are scripts, maybe being inundated with scripts (especially the *right scripts* like Charlotte's Web) is just what he needs. This is just an off the cuff thought, but one we wrestle with with our six year old daughter. She just has a preternatural love of stories of any kind. We've also wondered at times about how well she does with emotionally connecting with people (very much less so know, I would say). And she also has a very difficult time with disappointment/change of plans. We've always been able to get her to get lessons we are trying to teach her best by connecting it to some story. But, of course, ohhh, I just feel like erasing the whole comment, she doesn't expect the scripts to come out exactly the same. Thought experiment over .... but I'm leaving the comment. We've thought a good deal about autism over the years because of J.'s work, and, being a good Duke Divvy, stories ... you know, stories.


  5. If you need a place to get a pig just let me know. The Wilbur piglet featured on the most recent paper edition of Charlotte's Web lives at a hog farm near us. Surely a TN pig would be a fine addition to your home. ;) I'm so glad he enjoyed it. Will he ask to hear more?

    p.s. Love that Animaniacs song, too. I don't think any kid his age 'gets' the countries in that song. They just like the voices and the sounds. Me too!

  6. Yippeeee! Come on, Jen, you know about pigs! :-)

    Isn't it amazing when the get it! I love this! But oh for a peek in to that little brain as it absorbs the story...what does he see when he hears about Charlotte? I wonder these things about Toni too... and I wish that my brain was uncomplecated enough to just want a pig again.


  7. I don't know you, but I love reading your blog....your transparency, challenges and joys in your mothering of your children is so real and tender and inspiring....thanks for putting it out there! I don't have the challenges that you have, but I am absorbing your courage, your honesty, and your straightforward dealing with the hand you've been dealt! Blessings! Keep on writing!
    -Mary Styer Schrock

  8. When Luke was 2, he could sing all the presidents, Washington through Clinton. To him, it was just a string of syllables -- where McKinley ends and Roosevelt begins didn't matter at all. Not to mention the fact that he had no idea what a president was. But was it a worthwhile exercise? I have to think so. At the very least, now he has a familiarity with names that others wouldn't easily recognize as a U.S. president. I have taught 5th graders who had no idea the difference between a state and a country. If they had memorized the Anamaniacs song when they were in kindergarten, I really do think they'd be at a different place with their understanding of how the world is organized. You learn to sing the ABC song long before you get it that those letters form words that form sentences that form paragraphs that form novels. But reading a novel without knowing your ABCs would be darn hard.

    Teo, Javy and I are nearing the end of A Cricket in Times Square. While they have not asked for a cricket yet, and I don't really know how much they're following the plot, setting the pattern of reading a book a little at a time over a couple weeks is valuable in and of itself. It's also good for me, to get to move on from picture books (though some of those are delightful as well), and there's not a thing wrong with that, either! We're on to Trumpet of the Swan next, Luke's favorite book from childhood. Let's hear it for E.B. White!