Learning Phonics

We parents of autistic kids love our tablets, be they iPads, Androids or TouchPads. Admittedly, I am in the minority of tablet parents with a TouchPad. Regardless, parents love tablets and the worlds that are now open to our kids.

Not that long ago–in fact, less than a year ago–most people would have described my son as non-verbal. In fact, I told everyone who would listen that he was. To be able to not just hear his voice these days, but also to hear him say words I can recognize, is very magical and makes me misty-eyed more often than I admit.

Daniel’s speech, much like his writing, just seemed to start cascading out. In a very short period of time he wanted to say words. With a lot of support from his EA, SK teacher, his twin sister and both parents, we all coaxed words from Daniel.

After he started IBI last fall, the therapy staff were able to work more intensively with him and help his mother and I with supporting his speech development.

Here is where the tablets come in. Daniel loves watching Youtube on the TouchPad, but he calls it an iPad because that’s what his mom has. I am very brand loyal to HP and Sony, but I realize I have lost the battle on nomenclature when it comes to the TouchPad.

When Daniel is here and asks for the tablet, he methodically works through his list of faves.  He starts with BINGO. Always. Most of the songs either come from Super Simple Songs or KidsTV123.

Something new started a couple of weekends ago. It wasn’t a deviation from his patterns or  an addition to his playlist. It was using one of the songs to teach his old man.

Sitting at lunch, Daniel started saying the letters of the alphabet, but he would leave a long pause after saying each one and point to me. It took me a few minutes to realize what he was doing. He was waiting for me to say the word associated with the letter from one of his favourite videos, The Phonics Song 2.

I could have smacked my forehead because it was so obvious, but I didn’t. I tried to remember the words. When he said “g” I was lost. I couldn’t remember the word. He prompted me a bit and then said the word. Between my, umm, limited hearing and Daniel’s  pronunciation, I couldn’t make it out.

Rather than stay on “g” until I clued in, Daniel moved to the next letter and gave me a huge smile when I said the right word. It was just like I would do, or his therapists and teachers would do, when he successfully completed a task. I laughed inside when I recognized he was teaching me. I missed “r” and “v” and he responded the same way as with “g.”

His sister was trying to coach me, too, but I couldn’t get the words.

It was only after the twins went back to their mother’s and I viewed the video that I understood what the words were.

Whenever anyone asks, I say that my kids are my best teachers. With Daniel’s phonics/alphabet lesson, it turned out to be a very literal thing.

8 thoughts on “Learning Phonics

  1. Daniel is brilliant! I love how patient he is with you :) Once we get you an iOS device then I have some wonderful apps to share with you that both you and Daniel will love.


    • He is very patient and a good thing too, considering how frenetic his twin sister is. It will be great to see how he takes to apps. The ones that I have found for him to use on the TouchPad don’t hold his interest as much as Youtube. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Youtube is the only thing he can run on both the TouchPad and the iPad. I can tell he is aching to use Zoo Train.


  2. Hi Jim,
    I just want to thank you for this blog…..It is so nice of you to share your adventures …..it’s gives parents like us hope…..


  3. That’s rather fascinating, Jim. As a teacher it astonishes me that kids these days aren’t really systematically taught phonics the way I was back in the 60s. As a result, a lot of them have real trouble figuring out new words they haven’t encountered before. To me, this raises the whole question of how is it that they even read? It doesn’t seem to be the same way I do. I’ve read educational and linguistic theory about people recognizing words by their “shapes,” and as someone who also among his many former careers was once a proofreader I understand this (words stand out as misspelled when they “look wrong.” But it just seems cognitively different to me.


    • Thank you, David. I thought we were the same age or you were younger, because I was taught phonics in the 70s. Ok, I did start school in the 60s.

      I don’t want to sound like an old fogey, but I don’t think learning phonics the way we did is a bad thing. I understand that some teachers had ways to slip those lessons in when the pendulum in education moved away from phonics.

      Interesting about the shape of words because I recall that from a linguistics course I took when Reagan was in his first term. Some words are very easy to make out with squares, circles and rectangles representing letters.

      For Daniel, seeing the whole word in a sign or a logo and mimicking it was an important earlier step. Seeing him make words from movies made us realize that he was conscious of the world around him and was communicating what he had seen.


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