No One Said Special Needs & Smart Can’t Go Together

Last Wednesday was Cordy’s first day of school, and while she had a lot of anxiety over it – like she does about anything new – I was feeling just as much anxiety as I stood next to her waiting for her bus. She tried her best to be calm about the whole thing as she tried to hold still while I took a million photos.

My thoughts, though, went something like this: Would she throw a fit about riding the bus? Would she melt down when she got to school and couldn’t go to the room she was in last year? Would kindergarten be too hard for her? Would her new teacher treat her well? Would I be able to stop asking myself questions long enough to notice she’s getting on the bus?

Oh. Well, uh, that was easy.

I went to sleep for the day, expecting to hear the phone ring at some point with some question or complaint about Cordy’s behavior. But there was no call.

When the bus brought her home, she was clearly tired but full of smiles. She said her first day had been great, and when asked if she wanted to go back again the next day, she replied with her usual, “Well, uh, yeah, that would be OK.”

The note from her teacher gave me a lot of hope. The teacher said she had a good day, and she mentioned Cordy seemed to have good reading skills when they were assessing her abilities.

The next day was much the same. The note home was even more promising, stating that Cordy was asked to read a 1st grade level book and had no trouble with it.

Friday was even better. The teacher was both surprised and delighted to report that Cordy read another 1st grade level book and answered the comprehension questions perfectly. She mentioned that Cordy is still whining whenever she’s asked to do something, but other than that she’s adjusting to the new routine with no trouble.

Of course, I have no idea if the teacher is glossing over any actual behavior problems or not. But I don’t doubt that Cordy is impressing her with her reading skills. We’ve suspected she could read for some time now, but when pressed to show off her skills she generally pretended like she couldn’t read. (How modest.) I’m honestly more surprised that the teacher is surprised. Surely she’s read Cordy’s evaluation report and knows that her autism has little influence over her cognitive abilities.

I’m outlandishly happy that Cordy is adjusting so well to kindergarten. Crazy, over-the-moon happy.

More than once I’ve encountered people who assume that just because Cordy has autism, she will somehow never be able to learn anything, will never graduate, and will spend her life dependent on her family. Autism seems to be a death sentence to them, or at least the death of any kind of promising future. When we first got the diagnosis, I remember mourning her potential, too, worried that she would never be able to live a “normal” life. But it’s soooo not true.

Cordy’s autism may affect the way her brain functions, but it doesn’t affect her ability to function. She can still learn, she can understand logic at an age-appropriate level, and while she has some unusual sensitivities and requires some different methods to learn, she can keep up with her peers in classwork.

Even I don’t always understand the way Cordy thinks, but she still manages to figure everything out. She resisted learning to read when we attempted to work with her, instead choosing to teach herself. She doesn’t appear to understand phonetics, and as best I can tell, she reads by memorizing entire words. But she still learns it all, even if it’s not how most people do it.

I like to think of it this way: just because most of us take the interstate to get to the park doesn’t mean that taking the back roads won’t also get you there. It might take a little longer, and your travel experience will certainly be different, but you’ll reach the same destination. 

Cordy’s travels to the park probably involve singing “My Way” with Frank Sinatra as she cruises along the twisting, hilly roads. But once there, you know she’ll have stories of a great adventure along the way.

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  1. Yay Cordy! This is great news that it’s going well so far. And yay you for seeing her different thinking brain and helping her make it work for her. You’re a great mom.

  2. Yup. This “cognitive disconnect” so to speak (and I’m talking about the others, not the ones on the spectrum) is what I dislike the most about navigating things as a parent of someone on the spectrum.

    There is definitely an assumption that if someone has trouble in one arena, they must automatically be “behind” in another. After all, that’s why so many people end up yelling or speaking slowly to people in wheelchairs. (Or worse, talking as though the person isn’t right there.)

    Same thing happens with autism. There is an expectation that there is cognitive delay in those subjects which are considered traditionally intelligent. (Or of course, the flipside, that people assume a Rainmanesque treatment of everything while being completely blank to everything else.)

    I am SO GLAD Cordy is showing her teachers that she’s a perfectly accomplished young lady. :-) Bravo Cordy!

  3. Glad to hear she is doing so well.

    I am not a phonetic reader, neither are the girls. It was hard for The Chicken especially but in the 3rd grade it clicked and she got it and is reading at a very high level now. I am glad that it ‘clicked’ for Cordy much earlier!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful. Both her and your writing.

  5. I love the way you phrased the fact that having a brain that processes information differently doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, just that you have to tailor your teaching strategies! Brilliantly worded (and way to go Cordy!)

  6. What a couple of dolls, so glad the week went well.

    What your post made me think of is that even kids who don’t have autism learn differently.

    Teachers seem to be taught one way to teach…sit the kids down, tell them what to do, then have them do it. But there are plenty of people who can’t really learn unless they are moving, but letting them move will be too distracting. My husband had a session for AYSO parents to teach them about coaching, and one dad was so impressed in that one hour about how my husband handled his son with ADD, he wanted to hire him for private sessions, for a 5YO.

    I would love to see the day when kids are grouped by learning styles and interests rather than age.

  7. TherExtras says:

    I like your analogy of taking the backroads vs. the highway to get to the park. Barbara

  8. Kari – You’re right, this kind of cognitive disconnect can be seen in many areas, whether spectrum or wheelchair or blind or any other kind of difference.

    Nicole – I don’t want to imply in any way that this is only related to autism spectrum disorders. I agree with you completely that this applies to anyone who learns differently from others.

    I never learned well in the traditional classroom, but when I went back to school for another degree, I found online learning was perfect for me. It’s a shame we can’t tailor all education to each learner’s individual style.

  9. I taught myself to read whole words as a child. I can understand phonics just fine, but it always annoyed the hell out of me, because English spelling DOESN’T MAKE LOGICAL SENSE. I wonder if Cordy feels the same way.

    Anyway whole word reading is actually a pretty awesome skill to have. It means you can read much faster than average. I can read whole lines of text at a time.

    It’s also the way EVERYONE reads in cultures where writing is done with whole-word pictographs (like in China for example).

    I am so happy to see that school is going well with her, AND to see that her teacher is actually willing to let her work at her level.

  10. I love your metaphor about back roads. So happy it is going well. Hope it continues!!!!

  11. I’m so happy that it’s going well! Your little girl is awesome.

  12. YAY for a good day!

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