(Karen is a mom of a 6 year old with autism)
Post by Karen Velez
Since he was able to talk, my kid has been able to spell. I’ve mentioned before that, since he was an infant, whenever we had the TV on, I had the closed captioning on so I could hear or watch, without disturbing my son if he was asleep, or to hear over him when he was awake. I didn’t intend it but he’s been watching that captioning since he was a baby. By the time he was two, he could spell colors, and was reading, and using books and letters to convey his needs.
Teething (with drool) hanging with his books! Check out the “Little Speller” book behind him!
At age 6.5 now, he regularly spells on Google, for subjects in which he is interested. Lately, it’s been shake-n-go cars. He can spell enough to get Google to jump in with the rest of the word. If not, he’ll ask me how to spell or sound it out.
And he’s good at it.
Good enough, that he has gotten 100% on every spelling test he’s taken since the first day of first grade. Good enough that he was one of ten selected for the first grade, first round of the school spelling bee, which took place yesterday.
Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but for this child, who has to overcome so much just to speak in sentences, much less aloud to his class, this is really something. His classmates rarely hear much from him. It’s a chance for him to shine – to use his coping mechanism for positive attention and feedback.
Tuesday after school, one of the tutors told me that Toots’ teacher would be sending home an email to those parents whose students made it into the spelling bee.
Toots was oblivious. But me? When I didn’t receive the email that night, a lifetime of assessing my own social rankings, faux pas, inadequacies, missteps and humiliations left me anxious. Would the teacher feel, because of his different behavior, because of his disability, that he shouldn’t participate? Would the rulemakers accommodate his inability to follow direction perfectly and need for a tutor to prompt him to go up to the front of the class? Would he understand how to follow the rules of the “game”? Would the other kids make fun of him? Would he freeze or be afraid? Worst of all – would the teacher not select him because of his autism?
Just call me “drama”. All that worry was for nothing. The teacher simply didn’t send the email out that day. He made the cut. There was nothing more involved in her selection than that he could spell well. His teacher is awesome. End of story.
Yesterday came. The spelling bee was in front of both classes of first graders, about 48 students and a good group of maybe 10-12 parents. My son was the 8th of 10 students to be called up to compete. He had to be prompted to go to the front of the group at the microphone.
Toots is still innocent to all that social ‘stuff’, the hurt, the “making fun of”, the idea that one should act a certain way in certain social settings. This aspect of ‘social blindness’ can be both a blessing and a curse, and is one of the myriad of reasons he requires a tutor. It was also why I was a little worried when I showed up to watch.
I pretty much kept as quiet as much as a proud mama could, until after it was over. After all, it was exciting just that he was one of the 10 chosen in his class and even if he was out after the first round! I was proud of him.
Instead of worry, I was treated to the delight that is my son. He was not nervous. He didn’t really get all the fuss, pomp and production associated with an activity that comes so naturally to him. For him, it was no different than brushing his teeth. But he knew something was different that day. At one point, from across the quiet room, he said, “Mommy is here to watch me!” looking over my way. How could I help but smile at him?
His difficulties came in trying to spell before the announcer gave the sentence for the word (she’d have to chuck the word and give him a new one), and then in not repeating (of all things!) the word again, after spelling it to complete the submission of his “final answer.”
He strolls up to the microphone and as they get ready to give him the next word, he says “Low rider,” into the microphone, clearly. (Who doesn’t love a low rider?) This generates laughs from everyone, including me. He then is given his word, “outfit” which he spells with confidence.
Finally, to qualify as one of the final two competitors, he spells the word “broken”, with his usual flair.
He could not spell bacon (b-a-k-e-n) and butter (b-a-t-r). The girl who was competing against him got the words “same” and “west”. He can spell both of those! Ah well. Second place is awesome! Don’t you think?
Karen Velez, Sacramento, California
Karen is a lawyer and mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. She works part time and spends the rest driving here and there and everywhere for her son’s various therapies. Instead of trying cases, she now plays Pac-man and watches SpongeBob. She wears old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after her son. “Yeah, it’s different,” she says, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.” Visit her blog Solodialogue or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.