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Monday, July 14, 2014

I've Always Wanted My Son To Be An Avid Reader - And He Is (Did I Mention He Hates Books?)

When I was pregnant with my children, I had all kinds of rosey dreams of motherhood. My children would be read to every single night, and would grow up reading, reading, reading. I would catch them under their covers with a flashlight and a copy of Harry Potter or one of the Narnia books, and I'd smile and shake my head over my darling little insatiable readers.

Only, it didn't quite work out that way.

Anna loves to read, and I dutifully read to her and she was reading on her own before she even started school. She used to bring a book with her when we went out to dinner, and the ex and I would share a look of clandestine glee even as we told her to put it away when they brought the food.

But she never did want to read Harry Potter. Or Narnia. Or like them read to her. Her favorite genre turned out to be horror, and then when she got older, she started reading fanfiction and other than the occasional Young Adult book, that's pretty much it for her now. I tell myself that at least she's reading, and doing well in school. I'm still a little bummed about Harry Potter.

Then we had David, and we read to David, and David was diagnosed with autism and we read to David even more. Then David learned to read - painstakingly - and he and I dutifully read together, with him at the helm, on an almost nightly basis, even though it's clear he gets little or no enjoyment from it. He likes it when I read a book in a funny voice, but reading on his own is just work, and a lot of it. It's so much work, he has a hard time with comprehension and it's clear that he's just not envisioning the action from the words provided. His brain doesn't work that way.

So I've made peace with the fact that my son will never be a reader. Never have a love of books and stories. Never reach for a book for the pure enjoyment and escape of it. He's got autism, you know. His brain doesn't work that way.

I learned that early on. Words are a wall of squiggly lines to David, and when grouped into paragraphs, they're an insurmountable wall. Audio books are even worse. Just like seeing a wall of text, when David gets too many words thrown at him, it's like a tidal wave instead of a steady stream. He doesn't know which words to respond to, or to act upon when there are too many of them. And when they're telling a story, they tend to drone into background noise, and he loses interest, and focus. Because he has autism. His brain doesn't work that way.

When he was first starting out with his therapy, they made story boards for him that covered everything from his daily schedule to how to interact with his peers to the safest way to ride the bus. I thought it was a bit much, but I quickly saw the difference storyboarding made for him. He saw the pictures, he understood. It was brilliant in his simplicity. He's a visual learner, and pictures make sense. He loved reading, until he got old enough that the pictures went away. This year, I tried graphic novels, hoping they'd work better for him on his nightly reading, and they did, but he still doesn't read them voluntarily.

And just this last weekend, I had an epiphany about this non-reading boy of mine. He and his sister were at their father's house for the weekend, and I was straightening up when I hit the DVD pile.

You see, David is an avid movie watcher. He has hundreds of DVD's, ranging from The Wiggles and Blues Clues all the way up to The Lord of the Rings and all things Pixar. And while I can usually predict what he'd love to watch, you never know with David. He loves Pitch Perfect and Mama Mia, Titanic and Cast Away - the first two for the music, and the last two for the ocean.

Unfortunately, he doesn't usually put movies back in their cases, so there's always a huge DVD pile to sort through and put away. And it was while I was doing this, thinking about David, that it hit me.

David loves to watch movies. LOVES to watch movies. All the time. And do you know why?

Because they're storyboards. Moving, breathing storyboards that tell....surprise!....a story. Which means, when all is said and done, that my boy is an avid "reader". He loves stories. He craves them. He seeks them out for pleasure. He just gets them via pictures and dialogue, instead of off a printed page or digital screen. Because he has autism, you know. His brain works that way.

And just last week, I caught him under the covers at bedtime with his portable DVD player.

He was watching Harry Potter.

I call that a win.

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