I found myself almost going back in time today as I thought about Nat and reading. I want him to read more. I have wanted that for ages. Reading was in his IEP year after year. He knows how to read, has known since he was about 7 or 8. He has progressed to a first- or second-grade level, and there he has stayed. I don’t care, I don’t mind, who cares what grade he’s at as long as he’s reading. But I don’t think he is. I do hear from the house staff that Nat does choose to read when he has down time. I don’t really see that here, but I have to admit that we don’t often think of offering it to Nat as something to do. Usually, if I do see him looking at something on the living room coffee table, it is a flyer from his social group. He doesn’t seem all that interested in his childhood books — or the childhood videos, for that matter. When we do ask to read with him, he can read, probably at a first or second grade level. I believe he understands the content when written on that level as well.
When Nat was a baby, the first shared activity we had with him was reading. That day, that beautiful, heartstopping day, when he reached out for Corduroy’s Day: A Counting Book, took it from my hands, closed it, and handed it back to me, saying “uh uh uh,” and I knew that some things were going to be okay with this unusual baby of mine. There was something we did like to do together; there was something he could make me understand.
Back then Nat showed his joy in small slips of smiles here and there, unexpectedly wide bright flashes of light from his face. That’s what he does now. But I want more. I want to see him engaged like he used to be, in something that he likes, but that will also stretch him, lead him out of his own mind. As fascinating as he finds his own world, I think it would be good for him to engage more in the wider one out here. Aside from interacting directly with people, or indirectly on Facebook or email, there is one very clear way that Nat could enjoy engaging with the world: through books.
But as I once said prior to Thanksgiving of 1992, “There are no good books out there,” for someone like Nat. Back then I meant someone who needed things explained, step-by-step, beginning, middle, and end. He needed Thanksgiving to be explained, not in terms of Native Americans and gratitude, but in terms of what the heck happens to him on Thanksgiving Day. I created the “Nat Books,” or “Crisis Stories,” which did just that. These were a kind of social story, but I feel I invented them (mine, I mean), because I did this before Nat was even diagnosed, let alone before I’d even heard of Carol Gray’s ingenious invention. Necessity is the mother of invention? Necessity is why this mother invents.
This morning I was Googling books for adults that were written on a first-grade level. My mother is a librarian and she told me such books exist. I could only find one company producing them, and frankly they looked like cheesy boring crap. And suddenly I found myself saying, “Why can’t there be books about adult things, but that Nat could read and comprehend? Why must he be stuck in the world of princesses and pirates? Talking mice, flying carpets? He’s a grown man. He must wonder about other things. Why aren’t there books about things that Nat cares about, like — like — like — ?” Like what? What does Nat like?
Nat likes calendars, his social group outings, Cape Cod, and his brothers. He types “Max Ben” whenever you ask what he wants to talk about. He asks to talk about the calendar when he wants to talk about anything. He grabs the social group flyers from the coffee table. He loves going to Cape Cod.
So today I started writing a simple chapter book, and the first chapter is Max and Nat move out. Ned is going to find the right on-demand publishing software — probably Lulu — and together we are going to make cheap, bound, real books for Nat that tell him what he wants to know — and perhaps even more.