“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” — Frederick Douglass
Matt taught himself to read before he started kindergarten, and throughout his elementary school years, his reading tested at several years above grade level. Given the severity of some of his other learning challenges, including extremely deficient motor planning and poor neurological processing of most sensory input, his reading ability surprised and delighted his teachers, many of whom remarked on how he read aloud with dramatic expression that implied a level of comprehension not often present at his age.
I think one reason he was able to become a proficient reader was his absolute obsession with books during his preschool years. Those who knew him then probably remember he was never without at least one book, often several. The photo above was fairly typical of how he would position himself at the beach or in bed, with or without a pillow. It would always make my neck hurt to see him lying with raised head and shoulders, determined not to lose even a minute of reading time.
During those preschool and kindergarten years, I would go to the library and check out 30-40 picture books (there was no limit) and keep them in a box in the trunk of my car. They provided endless free incentives for good behavior. When he would go to occupational therapy or other settings that required his cooperation and effort, all I had to do was remind him that good behavior meant he could choose another book from the treasure chest in the trunk. It worked like a charm at least 95% of the time, and I could run by the library to change out my stockpile of books as often as he went through them.
As Matt has grown older, reading, like music, has been a special gift in his life. He has endured more than his fair share of suffering and loneliness, but he also has been blessed with a zest for life that has been fed by his imagination and his ability to immerse himself in the operas, musicals and stories he loves.
Frederick Douglass, who knew firsthand about enduring cruel limitations and suffering of a far different kind, understood the crucial importance of allowing the mind to break free through the doorway of reading. I hope his words will remind us that the ability to read is a precious gift, one that can give us wings to rise above whatever chains may bind us.
One year ago today: