It clicked today. Not that it hasn't before. There have been huge steps, then a step back, then forward, then two steps back. That's autism for you.
But today, the pieces fell into place. She's been struggling to learn to read for a while now. Lately, she's been working even harder on her speech homework and reading simple books. Fat cat. Hot dog. She's read Dick and Jane, and recently discovered that Poppy, our Newfoundland, is the perfect reading buddy. She's become more interested in books, and loves to be read to (though she has loved that for a while).
Today, we sat, waiting for my band class to start. I brought along the book I'd been reading aloud. In it, a group of teenage girls learned to read for the first time. The main character, a smaller girl who felt young and unimportant compared to her peers (hm, sound familiar?) was teaching her older sister to read. On a whim, I pointed to a word.
"I bet you know this word." She recognized it as one of her sight words. "She." She knew the next word as well. "Would." Carefully, she sounded out the rest of the words in the sentence. I helped her sound out the harder words, ecstatic. Later that afternoon, she read an entire page out of the book, with help.
We ended up going to the bookstore that evening. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on her face as she looked at the chapter books and realized that she could read the words inside. Suddenly, it wasn't something that her peers could do that she couldn't. It wasn't something to be afraid of, or pretend she didn't want to do. She could read. She skipped back to the car with her book, and once home, ran around the house singing "I can read!" She wanted to read everything: labels on packages, words from the book, even a birthday card that was on my nightstand. She read me an entire book, Leo the Late Bloomer, about a tiger who couldn't read or write when everyone else could. It was all I could do not to cry. She said later that there were words everywhere and now she could read them. She jumped up and down, still singing, and went to read to Poppy.
When she came back in, she chattered rapidly about anything and everything: the characters in the book, how she felt left out with her friends, how she had friends who moved and others who weren't friends anymore, how she wanted to be like me (yeah, I know. No pressure) and how she was so excited she could read. I wished I could hug her and tell her it would be okay, that it wouldn't be hard. All I could do was hug her and tell her I knew exactly how she felt, how even now I didn't feel like my peers (Prom? Meh. Dating? Triple meh.) It surprised me, definitely. She's very quiet and doesn't usually talk about her feelings, let alone deep, dark fears and insecurities. I wish I had the words to make it better. All I can do is be there for her, ready with hugs and a listening ear (since it would probably be frowned upon to try to knock some sense into nine and ten year old girls). Even with everything she told me, I feel like she has a newfound confidence. As we told her, a whole world has been opened up to her. Later, finishing the book, we ran across yet another thing she could relate to.
"I keep thinking about a tale my nurse used to read me about a bird whose wings are pinned to the ground. Have you heard it? In the end, when he finally frees himself, he flies so high he becomes a star. My nurse said the story was about how we all have something that keeps us down."
Today it clicked. And I know it's just the beginning and it doesn't mean everything is perfect, but I'm finally seeing my baby sister fly and I think it's the best feeling in the world.
JBug is the oldest daughter of Tina, and big sister to two (mostly wonderful) siblings.Photo via Flickr, quote via Princess Academy by Shannon Hale