This past week, I have been sorting through the files and records we have kept on Alex over the years: medical, educational, home school, and various therapies. Although I did not keep up with recording data in his baby book, as I explained in my earlier blog “Milestones,” I have kept carefully assembled files detailing Alex’s early years with autism. In going through his special education individualized education plans, or IEP’s, from ages four to six, I was reminded how strong his early reading and math skills were. His preschool teacher described his reading skills at age four as, “exceptional as he reads and spells many words.” She also mentioned that he would spell words aloud; we knew he did this to make sure he was understood because he was aware that his speech wasn’t always clear. Addressing his math skills, she wrote, "Information that is sequential has always fascinated Alex, and he organizes his routines and information this way. He is particularly interested in the calendar and numerals.” In a later report, I gave the following example of Alex’s ability to sequence at age six. During a V-8 vegetable juice commercial, Alex turned to me and teasingly asked, “V-9?” When I suggested W-9 instead, he thought for a minute and responded, “V-8, W-9, X-10, Y-11, Z-12!” This early preference for sequences and numbers has continued through the years, since Alex’s favorite subject, as well as his strongest, has always been math.
In reading through the evaluation reports, I recalled how clever Alex was about controlling situations to his liking, despite his limited language. In his first evaluation at age four, the educational diagnostician noted that Alex ignored the toys in the room and simply wanted to look at the books. She explained, “He was not interested in any other activities and, in fact, tried to discourage other activities by repeating, ‘Bye, bye’ whenever they were offered.” She went on to state that in order to test him effectively, she had to follow routines that Alex insisted upon and “taught” her. For instance, Alex needed to have his words repeated back to him so that he was sure the listener had understood him. To get the diagnostician to repeat what he had said, he would put his hand on her lips after he had spoken to indicate that she was to say what he had said. In addition, she commented that he bumped his knee at one point during testing and wanted her to rub his sore knee. She further explained what she did next: “When the examiner then kissed her own hand and touched Alex’s hurt knee, he kissed the examiner’s hand.” Apparently, Alex was satisfied that she had learned the lessons he wanted to teach her. In another later evaluation, the school speech therapist also discovered his need for control. She noted, “He often insisted on saying all the words he could see written on the test materials, rather than following directions.” In addition, she was none too pleased that he was reading the answers, which were written upside down on the bottom of the test page, even though I had warned her beforehand that he could easily read words in any position. Not surprisingly, these test results were not terribly valid because Alex had found a way to outsmart the system.
Besides the academic and evaluation reports, the comments in these files that others made about Alex reveal his strengths. For instance, his beloved occupational therapy assistant described five-year-old Alex in her report, stating, “Alex comes easily to the therapy room and is pleasant and generally cooperative.” A few months earlier, I had said in the IEP conference report that his private speech therapist had praised Alex in a written report to me by remarking, “I just love working with Alex—so loving and cooperative. Excited at most all we do—I love the happiness.” In that same conference report, I shared that his pediatrician had told us when he was four, “When Alex starts talking, it could be kind of scary because he’s so smart.” His pediatrician—like his private speech therapist, occupational therapist assistant, the educational diagnostician who first tested him, and others who have been perceptive about Alex—realized that behind the autism lies a child with much to offer. Those who see Alex for what he is, instead of focusing on what he is not, gain a glimpse into a special soul who takes delight in the world around him.
“At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places they stopped along the way. “ Numbers 33:2