An Unusual Discovery

A few days ago I got it into my head that it’s time to start teaching Charlie about letters. Unlike almost every early childhood program out there, I had opted to start Charlie on whole words and then go back and teach individual letters after we’d built some sight words. I had my reasons and they were based on scientific research and all that, but I won’t bore you with all the details.

So, out of nowhere I decide it’s time to start talking about letters. I sit Charlie down in front of his iPad, and bring up the Notes app (not the best choice, but fine for the moment).  I start a new note which brings up the key board and then go into my nifty teacher mode.

“So, Charlie, today we’re going to talk about letters. Can you see all the letters here? Tell me–do you know which letter is the first letter in Charlie?”

I take his hand and hold it in the pointer position–he’s come a long way in this area, but he’d still rather have someone else do his pointing. I wasn’t really expecting him to answer. I was doing that obnoxious thing that teachers do where they ask you something that they know you don’t know, and then they just go and give you the answer.

Imagine my surprise when his little arm immediately pecked on the letter C. He did it so quickly that I had a feeling we were going over old territory for the little guy. I went ahead and asked him the next letter feeling pretty confident that he wouldn’t be able to do this one–whenever we study his name, we use a lower-case h and the keyboard features an upper-case one.

Yeah, he got that one in about five seconds as well. This is the same moment that he got very, very bored with the activity and began trying to close the application. I pushed on. He had some trouble with the letter i, but other than that, was able to spell his entire name. Later, my MIL, who teaches Kindergarten, explained that i on the keyboard looks completely different than the i that we teach children–no serifs or dots on the keyboard. She said it’s a pretty common problem for small children. Charlie and common are two words rarely used together.

Over the next few days I have discovered that he can spell Charlie, Mommy, Daddy, Max (our cat), red, and Rude Boy. That last one is a horror show of a Rhianna video that I wish I had never downloaded because he loves it and it is SO not for children.  He cannot spell Buster, who is the family dog. Basically, he can spell most of the words that we’ve studied in reading. He also seems to know his letters already–he taps those out quickly if you say one out loud. Don’t know if it’s every one, but it’s plenty.

I’m pretty thrilled. I’ve done a lot different things to try to teach Charlie and it’s unbelievably good to know that at least a small part is sinking in. My husband was completely skeptical–he didn’t even want to watch Charlie work–but I made him sit down and see for himself. Afterwards, he said to me, “Mind. Blown.”

Not exactly sure where to go next with this, but I’m happy none the less. I decided a while ago that Charlie’s best bet for communication would be something  computer-based. Will it be typing? I have no idea, but I do know that spelling and reading are the building blocks of communication for him–the keys to expressing what he’s thinking and feeling. Seeing it in front of my eyes is downright amazing.

boy in stroller listening to iPad with headphones

Just listening to music, but maybe one day he'll be able to tell me things.

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    It reminds me when of when I realized Max could read!

  2. That is soooo amazing!!! Go Charlie!

  3. Go Charlie!

  4. So awesome! Love those moments when I was a teacher, but I’m sure it’s so much greater when it’s your child!

    • Pretty great when a kid makes a discovery, but this is something that might not ever happen, so the fact that it has. . . astounding.

  5. Katy, that is so awesome. This post really made my day. :)

  6. Wow!!! Just goes to show that there is so much more going on in that little head of his than you might have thought!

    I wonder if the letters are something they work with him a lot on at school?

    So happy for you- but more importantly, for CHARLIE!

    • I’m not sure if they do letters at school or not, but his favorite videos include a review of the alphabet at the end–I’d wager he’s seen it covered thousands of times at this point.

  7. AWESOME!! Great job Charlie! And mom for knowing how he learns!!

    • A lot of times I feel like I’m just throwing darts and hoping something stick–worked out this time I guess.

  8. INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you – ALL of you. This has me all kaflunkerflunked…i’m in awe.

  9. Is it okay if I go ahead and cry with happiness for you and Charlie? Nevermind, I’ll do it anyway. <3

  10. Paulette says:

    Awesome post! He is such a smartie!

  11. meghatronsmom says:

    Awesome awesome awesome

  12. Awesome Katy! Awesome Charlie!!

  13. Buadynora says:


  14. Charlie is amazing.

    It’s such a wonderful feeling to have confirmation of your efforts.

    Here’s to months and months of finding out more!

    • Holly, you hit the nail on the head. With kids who are so physically disabled it’s easy to question whether or not anything you’re doing is actually getting in there. Incredible when you find out that yes, it was all worth it.

  15. I love your hubby’s response! And also, YAY Charlie!! 😀

  16. Great! Your little man is quietly learning more than he shows…
    To be honest I’d really like to read why you chose to start with whole words instead that single letters.

    • OK–here’s the shortest explanation I can give: For many years I worked with students who had the learning disability Dyslexia. While I was at that job, some research came out that was full of PET scans of people with this disability and people without. The research showed that good readers relied heavily on a bank of stored sight words. Those who struggled, tended to rely more heavily on phonics and had little or no bank of stored sight words. For this reason, I chose to start Charlie with a bank of sight words. You would hope that he would create one naturally, but since he’s had a lot of brain damage, I didn’t want to take any chances.

      I hope that explains it! Let me know if you have more questions.

  17. That’s both terrific and amazing.

    This jumped out at me. ‘My husband was completely skeptical–he didn’t even want to watch Charlie work–but I made him sit down and see for himself.’

    Can I ask, what prompted the skepticism. Are you able to elaborate on the details? I’m very curious about it.

    • Ahhhhh, an easy question! As I stated up there, I actually have to hold out Charlie’s pointer finger and while I’m not directing his arm in any way, if you were watching us spell, you might not be able to tell who’s doing the moving. I made my husband hold out the pointer because then he could feel that it is Charlie doing the spelling and not his overly-excited mother.

  18. Wow! So awesome!

  19. Teoni Jugg says:

    Wow! How did you do it?? – I am training to be an SEN teacher, and would love to know what techniques you use!

    Also, are there any good sensory strories etc or even websites that you would particularly recommend?

    Charlie – You are a super star!! xx

    • Teoni–I used the method outlined in “Teach Your Baby to Read” which is just really large flashcards–ours are the same size as a piece of paper. You use these to build a sight word vocabulary before moving on to teaching individual letters.

      Can you tell me what kinds of sensory activities you might be looking for? I’ve written about a few on my friend Allie’s website: It’s a great place to start.

  20. You should be proud. Of him and yourself!

  21. Dannette says:

    That is such an exciting discovery! I remember when we realized Meya knew much more than her body could show us. I bought the Your Baby Can Read Series to give her additional exposure and she loved to watch those dvds for months – now not so much, but that is probably because she obsessed about watching them and is now past that stage. I was thrilled when her teachers picked up on her abilities too as the preschool staff just didn’t get how bright she is. I keep telling anyone new to Meya to expect great things and to assume she understands versus not – she hates when people baby talk to her!

    • After Charlie’s teachers watched some video I shot last summer, I feel like they really started challenging him more this year. I’m hoping that by next year we’ll have some new amazing videos to show them1!!

  22. Squeeee!!! way to go Charlie! Way to go Mom!

  23. Woo hoo! Go Charlie! What a smarty-pants!