Spiders, the Stinky Cheese Man, and a Magic Pebble

          This post is a follow-up to one I wrote over a year ago called Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.  To briefly summarize, kids with autism often don’t want to be read to and have little interest in books.  This was particularly true for SB, and it absolutely broke my heart.  When you love children’s books like I do, and want to read to your child, it hurts more than I can describe when that child will not tolerate being read to.  Thankfully, with a lot of patience, both guys have gradually become a little bit more interested in reading and in listening to a book.

          Although this area has slowly improved over the years, it has certainly never been “normal” in either of my guys.  A long time ago, my husband and I established that reading one book was part of the bedtime routine, so that one book is generally tolerated and usually enjoyed.  But if I try to read to them or ask them to read to me at some other point during the day, it is usually met with resistance, particularly from SB.  AB went through a period where he liked to be read to, but only if it was a book about Thomas the Train.  Both my husband and I will freely admit to falling asleep mid-sentence during Thomas books on multiple occasions.  Those Thomas books are just so damn DULL!  And all of those personified trains act like bratty toddlers!

          Today I’d like to share a few victories we’ve had recently in the reading department that make me happy.

          A big improvement in the “willingness to read” territory came last summer when I enrolled both guys in the summer reading program at our public library, where kids could earn a coupon book after reading at least 15 books.  Neither of my kids fully understood what a “coupon book” was, but they decided to embrace the challenge!  SB was in the middle of a weird obsession with insects of all kinds, particularly spiders, so I decided to introduce him to some nonfiction books about bugs.  He was thrilled to have facts and statistics to memorize and detailed, gross pictures to look at.  It literally took the entire summer, but they both finally read 15 books.  In the moments where they didn’t really feel like reading, I could tell that both were motivated by a desire to get to 15, and also by wanting to get to 15 before the other one did!

Like most kids with autism, my guys tend to fall in love with one book, movie, or TV show, and then are not interested in branching out at ALL.  To prevent myself from dying of boredom, a lot of nights I go into one of their rooms to read a bedtime story and say, “Hey!  We’ve never read this!  It’s one of my favorite books!  Let’s read this tonight!”  I am ALWAYS met with resistance.  “No!  I want to read (insert title here of the story that has been read every night for the previous 4 weeks straight.)”  Some nights, because I am tired, I give in.  Some nights I fight it, insist on reading a new story, and end up reading to a fidgeting, stimming, complaining child that isn’t paying a damn bit of attention to me at all.  But because I am a glutton for punishment, I keep trying.  One night last week, on a whim, I pulled off of the bookshelf “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” by Jon Scieszka.  This is a special book, because it is signed to SB by the author and was given to him years ago by a friend of my husband’s who loved reading the story to his own son.  I convinced AB that we should read this, and although he whined and complained, he settled down when I began to read.  And then, he started to get into it.  And he started to laugh.  By the time I got to, “Well, as it turned out, he was just a really ugly duckling.  And he grew up to be just a really ugly duck.  The End,” AB was laughing so hard he fell out of bed!  I felt triumphant!

Recently a friend posted on Facebook a list of “50 Books Every Parent Should Read to Their Child.”  As someone currently studying to be a children’s librarian, I was mortified to realize that I had only read about half of them, so I promptly went to my public library to check out a few.  Last Saturday morning, the guys were doing their usual weird, stimmy play that they always do when left to themselves, and I decided to engage them.  “Hey!  Let’s read a story!”  We don’t read stories in the morning.  We read them at bedtime.  This is not our normal routine.  The resistance and complaining started immediately.  “Do we HAVE to read a story?  I don’t wanna read a book!  I just wanna play now!”  Etc., etc., etc.  I’m not sure why, but in this moment, I decided to push.  “Yes,” I said.  “We are reading a story right now.  Then we can play a game.  But first I am going to read you a story.”  They grumbled, but joined me on the sofa.  I grabbed “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” by William Steig from the pile of library books and began to read.  I didn’t know this book at all, and hoped that this scenario I had created wouldn’t turn into a disaster.  SB stuck his head under a pillow, so I reminded him to “listen with your whole body.” (Thank you, Social Thinking!)  He sighed, removed the pillow, and began to listen.

By the time we got to the part where Sylvester’s parents were eating a nice picnic lunch on top of Sylvester the rock, both guys were intrigued.  SB started to pull on the pages of the book to look ahead.  “Is he gonna turn back into a donkey?” he wanted to know.  (Spolier alert: he does.)  I was thrilled that we made it through the entire book, which is not short, and that by the end they seemed to like it.  We went on to play a board game as promised, and Sylvester wasn’t mentioned anymore.

At bedtime, I asked SB, “What book do you want to read tonight?”  He immediately answered, “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble!”  YES!!!!  Not only did he like a new book well enough to let me finish it, but he also requested it again later.  It’s so HARD to introduce new things to these guys, because the resisting and complaining is so persistent and annoying.  But when a new thing sticks, it’s so incredibly satisfying!

Later I asked SB, “If you had a magic pebble and could wish for anything in the world, what would you wish for?”  He thought about it for a while, and then said, “I’m thinking…I would like my own Kindle.”  Now, I know that he is thinking that he would use his Kindle to play Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Plants vs. Zombies, but I can hope that he would also use it…to read new books.  Hey, a girl can dream!

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