Monday, October 28, 2013

It's All About the Rules

People are always talking about how those with autism are "concrete thinkers," the type who see things in black and white. I've never witnessed this in Ethan as much as in the last few months.

When I was a kid, I remember learning by observing. Well, Ethan thankfully does this, with one addition: whatever he learns, he makes into a rule. So, for example, when I told him Big Papi (David Ortiz) won the Red Sox game with a grand slam, the next day he announced, "the only way you can win the game in baseball is if you hit a grand slam."

A few days later, the Red Sox won with a three-run homer, so I made a point of telling him that they had won without a grand slam. He then proclaimed: "the only way you can win is by getting a home run." Which led to a whole new discussion about base hits and driving home guys on base.

Baseball aside, this whole rule thing is throwing Ethan for a loop when it comes to the English language. It's no secret that English is one of the more difficult languages to learn. There's a good reason for that: rules are broken in English all the time. So while Ethan discovers the joy of reading and spelling, of memorizing letter sounds and sight words, he's also quickly realizing that in English, there is rarely such thing as a black and white, hard and fast rule.

It started with "couple" and "few." He wanted to know the difference. A few days later when I told him dinner would be ready in a few minutes, he said, more to himself, "that means three minutes, because a few means three." And I had to tell him that well no, sometimes it doesn't. It's more like it means more than two.

He takes great pride in sounding out words. "Kitty starts with 'c'!" he'll exclaim, and I'll have to tell him it's actually "K."

"But it makes a "k" sound!" he protests, and I have to explain that sometimes more than one letter makes the same sound.

He wants to know why "ks" makes the same sound as "x."
He wants to know why the number one is spelled "o-n-e" when it sounds like it starts with a "w." Never mind the whole fact that there is also the word "won," and that there are many words that sound exactly alike but are spelled differently.
He wants to know why "sky" sounds like it has an "i" in it and "pizza" sounds like it has an "e." The list goes on and on.

Silent e brings Ethan great joy. One day not long ago he out of the blue said, "Hey! Why does the word home have an 'e' in it if you can't hear it?" I thought that would be a great time to pull out one those songs from childhood that makes me smile. You remember this one, from The Electric Company? (Yeah, I'm dating myself.)

Since watching the little song about silent e, and talking a bit about it, Ethan has been on a quest to find silent e wherever he looks. So I'll hear out of the blue:

"Mom! House has a silent e!" Or gate. Or like. Or ate. The list goes on and on. Silent e is very soothing to Ethan, I think. It's a pattern he can look for, unlike most of the craziness of the English language.

As I watch his frustration as he attempts to write a word like "friend" and wants to know why in the world there is an "i" in it, I'm seeing our language in a new way. I have a new respect for anyone learning English as a second language. I wonder if at some point Ethan's going to get frustrated at rules that contradict themselves again and again and just use his sheer memorization skills to tackle words. And as always, I am enthralled, watching the way the mind works, the way his mind works.

I attended a writing seminar once where the speaker announced boldly that in your writing you should feel free to "Break any rule. But know why."

Somehow, I have the feeling that will not be Ethan. Ever. Rules are sacred, like the ones in the baseball playbooks, no matter how obscure (a-hem, World Series, Game 3). Come to think of it, that would be an awesome career choice. Ethan would make a very good umpire someday.

1 comment:

Deenie said...

I'm having a similar experience in my home.