Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do I Read?

Every day now, several new things happen with Lilli that amaze me. I could not possibly write it all down. I've tried to write as much as possible throughout Lilli's life. I am so glad I have, because reading it reminds me of how good God is. Even through the worst, toughest times, He is there, and He is good.

Lilli is continuing to type happily with the teacher and therapist, and depending on her mood, with Jasen and me. Something happened at breakfast this past week. It shook my world a little bit, in a good way. Later when I was driving to get Chloe from preschool I thought about the future. I now have a vision for Lilli that I'd never had before.

That morning at breakfast, Lilli typed this:

"Do I read"

I think it was the first question Lilli's ever asked me, out of the blue like that. In other conversations, questions have come up based on what we were discussing. But the questions were usually just the single word "why," following something I had just told her. This was out of the blue. I was talking to her about the new pancakes she was eating. She was happily eating and enjoying our time together while Josh slept and Chloe was at morning preschool. Then she grabbed my hand and typed "Do I read?" (minus the question mark.)

I was a little confused at first by the question. But I think I know why she asked. We all use the words "type," "spell," and "write" with Lilli. We've been focusing on getting Lilli to tell us things, spell words, type sentences. I don't ask her to "read this" because she can't read it to us out loud. I doubt I used the phrase "read this" in the last month. Or maybe even never. So, as crazy as it seems, she knows she can type and spell, but she was not exactly sure if she could read.

"Yes! You can read, Lilli! You can read. Look, I'll type words and you read them." I silently typed "I love you." She sat still and watched. We usually tap the "speak" button, and it says the words on the screen out loud. But I did not hit "speak." I took her finger and made it touch each word. I imagined that she was hearing the words in her mind. We sat there in silence, and she looked at the words.

"Do you know what that says?"

"Yes," she typed. She turned and gave me a kiss and hug. She squeezed me really hard.

"Well, then you can read! See? You know what those words are, and you just read them." I felt proud, and a little emotional. It felt like another door opening up for Lilli. I shake my head and blink at this kind of stuff every day now. I cannot believe how amazing it is, and how it is all happening so fast. Thinking about reading with Lilli got me excited, and made me think about actual books, not just words on an ipad screen. I wanted to open a real book to show her that she could read some words in it. A children's "My First Read and Learn Bible" board book was already sitting on the table nearby. I opened it up to the first page, and propped it up. I took her hand in mine and pointed her first finger to each word as I read them to her: "God made the earth and the sun. He made the moon and the stars." She really looked at the words and followed them. It was the first time I ever saw her do that.

"See Lilli? You're reading those words! You know how to read!" She giggled and touched her nose with happiness. I love that the first sentence I had her read was about God, and the very beginning. Beginnings are awesome. I love this beginning with Lilli right now.

I thought about getting some books for Lilli at the library. "Would you like me to get a book or a movie for you?"

"Yes," She typed. I asked her which, and she typed "book." When I asked her what she would like it to be about, she typed "letters." Ok. Again this girl surprises me. I thought, maybe she wants to get an alphabet letter book because she realized she knows how to read? Who knows? And just how did she know how to spell the word "letters?" It's actually nice to be clueless sometimes. Late that night I went downstairs to grab a few index cards, and there it was in the stack: a card with the word '"letters" written out neatly in black marker. Either the teacher, or the ABA therapist, or both of them, had been teaching Lilli how to spell the word "letters." Above the word was a small picture of alphabet letters. Huh. How about that.

I came home with a bag bursting with books from the library. I scoured our own bookshelves looking for books with simple words, one sentence per page. What a difference between my two emerging readers right now. With Chloe, I say "What does this say? Or, "Let's read this together." I tell her, "You can figure out what this word is, look at the first letter and make its sound," and so on. I just do not do that with Lilli, because teaching Lilli to read has been so backwards. Parents of children with special needs, it IS possible to teach a non verbal child to read! You just have to do it differently! Very differently. And you need help. The people that help you have to really believe in your child. If no one believes in your child but you, then you are the one who is meant to do it.

I am very blessed to have wonderful help every day from Lilli's ABA therapist and homebound teacher. I could not possibly do this myself with two other young children. Lilli needs someone working with her all day long. For the rest of last week, Morgan and Leslie both read books to Lilli and had her type the words from the book on the ipad. Lilli is very interested. It is totally new to her. She has always loved books. She has trouble with turning pages. But she has some very favorite board books that she has flipped through countless times over the years. Perhaps she had flipped through them so many times, she stopped noticing those little black symbols on each page. Maybe she just focused on the pictures and never realized she could read those actual words. Maybe someday she'll tell me.

The vision I had for Lilli while I was driving down the road that day was of Lilli as a teenager someday, reading books. Learning. Communicating with others. I even thought of her in school again years from now, with her ipad. I do not know how independent Lilli will be. We won't know what she will be like when she is older until we get there someday. But now instead of a cloudy unknown future, the fog is starting to clear a tiny bit for me. I can see her reading, learning, communicating, making connections. When a person knows how to read, they can learn about anything in the world. It changes everything. We all know that being able to read is important. But until that morning at breakfast, I had never felt that importance in such a profound way. I guess it is the difference between taking something for granted, and knowing that you have been given a precious gift.

Lilli does that. She helps me not take things for granted in life. She reminds me of the many gifts we have in life, every day. That day, I realized that being able to read really does open up a whole new world for a person.

It is a gift.

Thank you, Morgan, Leslie, Jennifer S., Sarah M, and Lisa W.; Lilli's teachers over the years, and thank you to Maria, her aide last year. Thank you to every person who has ever read to Lilli, helped Lilli look at a book, or pointed out an alphabet letter to her. Thank you for believing that a child with special needs can learn to read. Thank you for believing in my child. Thank you for this precious gift of Lilli reading. The value of this gift can never be measured.


  1. That was beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing. What a gift Lilli is!

  2. I am so excited for Lilli! I am so proud of all you have done Jennie! You are truely amazing and as I have said before... an inspiration! What a blessing to have had you all come into my life! xo