Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The (Briefly) Open Window

Yesterday Maya and I were in the car, driving from school to therapy. Maya was doing a variety of things: looking out the window, answering questions about her day, and occasionally typing or saying something with Mini. She was very jazzed about a class trip happening the following day  (today) and she was saying “Legoland tomorrow!”  There was a period of frenzied typing, wherein she opens the keyboard in her app and hits a bajillion letters with both hands. It’s annoying (each letter shouts individually as she types: A! K! L! LDKDJJEVMVKEKSMAM!!!”) and it’s a favorite activity of hers. I try to allow the typing within reason (no typing at meals or when someone is trying to talk to her) as I’m sure the letter play is helpful, and so is exploring the keyboard, etc. I hummed along with the radio. I didn’t notice when she stopped typing. But I noticed when, after a pause, she started again:


Wait. What?

Maya has spelled her name for a long time, and she will spell Will’s name as well. But prior to yesterday I had never seen her spontaneously type another word. Ever. I have made gentle requests (including bribes) to see if she had spelling abilities (Hey Maya, can you tell me how you could write the word ‘cat’?) but was always shut down, directly (No) or indirectly (generally the dramatic typing of massive strings of letters or wandering away from Mini).  But now . . . lego.

Before I got too excited I asked her to hand me Mini, so that I could check and see that she didn’t have a screen open where she could see the word “lego.” For some time she’s been a fan of entering a button and then copying the spelling (Mommy. M-o-m-m-y.) but nothing was there. It was real.

I handed it back. I smiled a little, but I didn’t make a big deal of it.

A window had opened, slightly. Enough to let some light in and illuminate some of the dark areas of Maya’s knowledge. I spend a lot of time thinking about what she thinks, what she knows, what she understands, what she can do . . . and now, somehow, I was getting a glimpse.

I thought quickly and carefully. She was tapping out long strings of gibberish letters.

“Could you clear that out?”

She eyed me in the rear view mirror, cautiously, but I saw her hands tap around the screen silently and thought she must have done it.

“I’m going to ask you about a word and I would like to hear how you want to spell it.”

No response. I tried not to let any hint of I-really-care-about-your-answer come into my voice.

“Cat.” I said, clearly but nonchalantly.


“Hey-good spelling.” I smiled, but played it cool.

“What about ‘dog’?”


She started listing classmates then, moving around the app, talking about different things. I waited, then asked her to clear it again and offered the word “run”.


I kind of liked that spelling error, because it gave me the idea that she might really be thinking about how the words sound, rather than just reporting sight words.

Good job! Run actually has a u in the middle, but you typed ran—that’s so smart. What about ‘mop’?”

A pause.


That’s definitely not a sight word, that’s phonics. That’s fantastic. She has some writing abilities now, for real. Things are happening! This is amazing!

She’s not interested in playing my game anymore and wants to listen to the radio, she recognizes a song from the school bus. She looks at the snow and the river, and I try one more, asking her to spell “like.”


A valiant try, and she included the silent e! Amazing!

We got to the office, did homework, and she had a great session. I kept thinking about the open window, the opportunity that I had been surprised with  to see a new ability. I had no idea she could generate text. She has literally done nothing like that before. As we walked back to the car an hour later, I was anxious to ask her a few new words that I had thought of, hoping to feel out the edges of her phonics awareness. I waited a few minutes, while she drank a chocolate milk box and we talked about going home to see Daddy and Will. Then I asked, casually,

“Hey Maya, do you think you could tell me how to spell ‘food’?”

She typed F- and then looked at me, deliberately in the rear view mirror as she continued –JKKLLKJLKLKNKMKJKJKJKJN

And the window shut.

I can't wait to see the new things waiting the next time it opens up. It's always there, you know, this knowledge and thinking and processing and analyzing, but it takes a stars-aligning type of situation to get to see it all (sensory stuff, cooperation stuff, motivational stuff, attention stuff, muscle/motoric stuff). Just another story to file in my "this-is-why-we-all-need-to-always-presume-competence" folder.

If you're interested in reading more about the "sudden" emergence of skills or ability, this post is great: Night-blooming Flowers: Sudden skill acquisition and extreme context-dependence

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