I try not to focus on the things that Owen can’t do but in comparison to your ‘neuro-typical’ five year old, there’s quite a list!
Dwelling on it won’t help anybody, least of all Owen himself! So, we had to find out what his strengths are.
One of Owen’s most useful strengths is his memory. It’s exceptional. I think of myself as being somebody with a good memory…it’s how I managed to scrape through my A-Levels and my degree. Now I mainly use it for storing Rik Mayall quotes and Rolling Stones lyrics and for answering bizarre questions in pub quizzes.
Owen’s memory, however, is out of this world. He copies everything he sees and remembers how to do it. He’s a ‘visual’ learner so I’ve taken this strength of his and we’ve run with it.
In two weeks he has learnt how to read 18 high frequency words, just by memorising what they look like. It goes against every single second I spent learning how to teach a child to read. No, we haven’t done many letter sounds or sound buttons etc (S-O-D TH-A-T) but why not make him feel brilliant about reading? All he wants to do is ‘Words mummy! Words!’ and his face is an absolute picture when he gets them all right.
There’s work to do. I’m writing the 18 words in shaving foam in the bath for him to read so he sees them in different contexts. He’s still a little hesitant if he sees them in his reading books from school (I don’t think I’m ever going to escape Biff, Chip and Kipper am I?). But we’re getting there.
Studies show that the reason behind a lot of people with Autism having these incredible visual memories is just because their brains are ‘wired up ‘ slightly differently, allowing them to focus more brain power into their visual learning. Although it does mean less ‘brain power’ in the part of the brain that tells them it’s probably not socially acceptable to walk up to someone and tell them that their hair looks like a massive dog shit
It’s helping him become more independent. He’s learnt how to set the washing machine by watching me. (Although I’m sure I’ve never emptied an entire box of washing powder into the drawer). He mimics everything he sees. And hears. (I’m waiting for him to give another driver the V’s up and exclaim ‘you could fit a bus through there!)
It’s like Albert Einstein said – if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid. (If it’s on the Internet, it must be true).
Fortunately though, my son is a monkey through and through.