I feel like most of the people who read our blog regularly have probably met Will at some point. Some may even see him on a regular basis. Others maybe haven't seen him for a while or may not have a chance to meet him in the foreseeable future. I think it's reasonable to provide something of a snapshot of where Will is right now as a reference.
Before I start, I want to point out that most of what I'm sharing is just my own personal observations and opinions of Will. As I've already mentioned in previous posts, we've had him evaluated by professionals and they have given us quite a bit of information about him and the Autism spectrum but Ashley and I are still basically novices when it comes to ASD and child psychology. Instead, I'm going to focus on Will's strengths and weaknesses and how they affect us on a daily basis.
Will became fascinated with numbers and letters at a young age. From what we can recall, he knew all the letters and numbers 1-20 by about 18 months and by 2 years he was reading most 3-4 letter words. He developed these reading skills largely on his own (and using the "Endless Reader" app on my iPad). Now he reads words anywhere he finds them. He'll call out words when we are at the store whether they are on signs or displays. He can even work his way through challenging words he's never read before by sounding them out.
For reference, here is a video of Will reading himself the book "A Birthday for Cow" by Jan Thomas. This was recording in March of this year, so will was a little over three and a half.
Hands down, reading is Will's biggest strength and it's not just a parlor trick. When I was his age, I remember pretending for my mom that I could read a sign for a carpet store. She was so impressed that I could read the word "carpet" when in fact I just recognized the logo from a tv commercial and knew the name had "carpet" in it.
Will, on the other hand, actually recognizes the letters, puts them together, sounds out the words, and comprehends what he reads. I have heard that some children on the Autism spectrum can exhibit early reading ability, which is termed "hyperlexia". Will has not been formally diagnosed as hyperlexic but I wouldn't be surprised if he was at some point in the near future.
He's also really good at stacking furniture to access hard-to-reach places. Once, while we weren't looking, he stacked some chairs and boxes in our closet to reach some play-doh that we had told him was off limits. He was successful in his efforts and we only learned about his makeshift ladder by finding the remnants of it in our closet later.
Playing Pretend / Make Believe
Will loves to dress up in various costumes. We recently bought him several themed pajama sets because he loves to pretend that he is different characters. His favorite right now is Buzz Lightyear but he also likes wearing his Captain America costume. He's also regularly asking us to participate in make believe with him. His action figures have conversations with each other, his building blocks are actual cities, and the beanie babies he calls his "animal friends" have names and travel around the house with him. Just the other day we had a lightsaber battle in the backyard using sticks. He rotated from being Han Solo to Darth Vader and finally Luke Skywalker.
He also knows the difference between make believe and real life. A friend from church was over one night and saw Will wearing his Woody pajamas and jokingly asked if Will was Buzz Lightyear. Will said "no" to which our friend responded "oh, you're Woody". Will looked at him with a straight face and said "I'm not Woody. I'm Will."
Memorizing / Remembering
Will is exceptionally good at memorizing and repeating words and phrases that he's heard. His favorite thing to do is quote from movies and tv shows and sometimes if we don't recognize what he's saying we aren't sure if it is something he has made up on his own or if he really heard it somewhere. Months ago, he went around the house saying 'We've got to find that lady" over and over. It was actually a little creepy, as if there was some ghost woman in our house that only he could see. We were relieved to finally discover that it was dialogue from the Garfield cartoon that he had been watching on Netflix.
Sometimes the things Will repeats are things that we've said, songs that he's heard, or words from a book that he's read. What's surprising is that he often seems like he isn't listening or paying attention but later he will say and repeat a snippet of a conversation or song that shows he was actually listening. This happens frequently at church when it seems like he isn't even remotely interested in what is going on but days later he will be singing the words to one of the hymns we sang.
The flipside of Will's memory is that he often is only repeating words and phrases that he's heard that it makes it harder to communicate with others. I'll touch on that more when I discuss some of his weaknesses.
Recognizing Emotions in Others (and himself)
Will can tell if someone is happy, sad, angry, or excited. There have been several times in which he has seen me crying and stopped what he was doing to give me a hug. This past Sunday, one of the speakers became emotional and started to choke back tears. Will turned to me and said "He's sad". Likewise, he knows when we are happy or please with him. He likes to be praised.
Will also verbally and nonverbally informs us when he is happy, sad, or otherwise upset. Recently we were at the beach and I got him situated in the bathtub in the beach house where we were staying. I let him in the bath to go get his towel and I guess I took too long for his liking because by the time I returned, his 13 year old cousin was trying to comfort him. Will took one look at me and sobbed "Dada, I'm afraid!" I burst into tears after realizing that leaving him in an unfamiliar room for even a short time made him uncomfortable enough that it scared him. At the same time, I was impressed that he articulated very well the specific emotion he was feeling.
As I mentioned before, Will can recognize emotions in himself and others and sometimes knows how to respond appropriately. Unfortunately, we have learned that Will does NOT respond to angry parents like some kids do. Instead of being shocked into stopping naughty behavior when he sees we are angry, he usually laughs and continues what he's doing. That is definitely an area that we are hopeful that we can improve with Will but the fact remains that he KNOWS we are mad. He just responds the wrong way.
Following a Plan / Set of Directions / Incentivizing
This is a more recent trait we've recognized in Will and as parents we've started to use it a lot to motivate Will. One day when Will was at a screening appointment, the child psychologist asked him to explain what he thought was happening on the page of a children's picture book. Will seemed confused at the fact that the book had no words and rather than play along with her request, he threw the book across the room and said he wanted to leave. The psychologist responded by telling Will that if he finished telling her about the picture in the book, he could play with bubbles. Will eagerly picked up the book, sat back down and somewhat finished the task. It was enough for him to rewarded with the bubbles.
Afterwards, the child psychologist told me that it was a pretty big deal that Will could be "redirected" from one activity to another with "if / then" statements and incentives. We have since learned that if we thoroughly explain to Will what we want him to do or what our plans are, he is much more likely to go along with what we say. Furthermore, we know the toys and food items that we can use as an incentive to get him to do things. It's not a foolproof system and sometimes Will resists us no matter what we do, but the fact is that Will can be very obedient when he knows what to expect.
Okay, we'll take a break here so Will can finish eating his mac and cheese. Next time I'll talk more about some of the areas where we hope with the proper help we can see some improvement.