Joey turned to me, putting his eyes directly in line with mine. “Miss Ann-Bailey. Teacher” he said, smiling. While this is true, I quickly recognized the attempt to negotiate with me. My friend, it is only because I am your teacher that we are having this battle, I explained. And I’m holding firm because I know you can do it. One day you will read many books all to yourself. Right now, we are reading this book together. Now, find “IS”.
He gave me a similar look to what he gave me years ago when we first started using the eye gaze and I insisted on him using the device instead of simply looking at what he wanted and laughing. Back then, he believed he had a communication system that worked for him. The idea that I would change this system made him mad. Eventually, Joey and I worked through it, and now he uses his device like a pro. To get here though, he needed to bend and I needed to bend until we found our middle ground.
Now, I am changing the nature of how we read books. When I present him with a simple book that has a repeated pattern sentence on each page, he is not sold on the idea that he should read the whole page to me. That’s not what we do. Miss Ann-Bailey reads to Joey. Because she’s the teacher. As he pointed out to me when I asked him to read the sentence to me.
It was not that the task was too hard for Joey. I scaffolded it down to make it fit right with what I knew was an easy task for him. Joey has many high frequency words and can quickly find them on his device. And yet, he still refused to read the sentence. He grabbed the book and hugged it, and then threw it on the floor. He loudly protested. He told me what the last word in the sentence was. He told me the first word in the sentence. He would not, he made it clear, read the middle words of the sentence, even when I helped him find them on the device. Reading, he seemed to be saying, was my teacher job.
Joey’s mom entered the room at the end of the session and asked who won. Did either of us win? Eventually, Joey selected the word is. Once. But this will resume in our next session, and Joey will learn to read these books. With repetition, persistence, and encouragement, Joey will read words in books just as he learned to communicate with his device, and moved away from his previous communication method of crying or laughing to express his wants/needs.
I appreciate Joey’s strong willed nature, even when he turns it against me. It’s his greatest strength, and I’ll happily figure out how to meet him where he is to get him to where I know he can go.