When I was in 2nd grade, my family was going through an extremely rough time and I was feeling very lost. My teacher saw that I was struggling and worked to help me feel not so lost. Her idea was to have me get lost in books so she would send me to the library each week and whatever book I picked was one of the class book choices. What I loved (and still love now) is being able to escape into a book and see myself in another place. When I was in 2nd grade, I was trying to understand my world with my sister with complex needs (we did not have the Rett diagnosis yet), my parent’s divorce and my older siblings (they are 10-13 years older than me) moving out to start their lives. It was an extremely difficult time for me but reading took me to a place where things were safe, where I could be someone else for a little bit and escape my world.
I think of our loved ones with Complex Needs and I think about the limits Rett places on them. As we all know, there is so much that is not in their control when it comes to their life, their body, and their world. When we teach our loved ones with Complex Needs to read and write, they can go somewhere else and leave behind their world for a little bit. I remember reading Charlotte’s Web and visualizing that farm and Charlotte. I was able to escape to that farm for a bit and talk with a pig. I would read with Kristi (my sister) and she would get these looks on her face like she was transported to another place. I believe she was visualizing herself in the story-being the astronaut or the dancer. Currently, I am working with some young men with Autism and I see the same thing, that look of being in the story. Reading can be such a freeing activity for our loved ones with disabilities so give them as many opportunities to read-via an app reading to them, you reading to them, or reading independently. Read and model visualizing in their head, paint a picture so they can begin to paint their own pictures.
After you read or they read, write about what they have read. I will say when I have done writing with my young men, I have gotten some great insight into what they interpreted from the book or how it made them feel. We read “Out of My Mind” By Sharon Draper about a young lady with Cerebral Palsy who could not talk and used a wheelchair. She had no way to communicate until she was 11 when she got a communication device. The comments and insights I got from my students were eye opening to me as their teacher and helped me understand them even more. It helped me understand their feelings even more. Reading and writing go hand in hand and opens up the world for our students with Complex Needs. It also is a great way for us as their supporters and people who love them to understand them better.
“When readers are lost in a book, they stand a good chance of finding themselves” and for those of us who interact with people with Complex Needs, we also have the chance to learn more about our loved ones. Just think of the chances reading and writing opens to all of us.