Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It started when Primo was about eighteen months old. I remember because my brother and sister-in-law were here for a visit, and she and I noticed that Primo was downright engrossed in a book about numbers. We started to point at them and name him for him. Then, for fun, we asked him, “Where’s the eight?”

A pause. Then he slowly pointed to the eight.

“Where’s the zero?”

Another deliberate pause, and he pointed to the zero.

From there, it was on to letters and the sounds they made. All before he was two. Then we started on syllables. I found an old Spanish first-grade reading primer at a book sale and he was as engrossed in that as he had been in the number book a year earlier. Mi mamá me mima has become one of his favorite phrases.

He loves to type on the computer, using this awesome program for Macs I’ve mentioned before. A couple of months ago, my mom and I were sitting with him, egging him on. Mama, he spelled. Daddy. Nana. Words he knew. Words we knew he knew. “Qué inteligente.” my mom praised him. And then as a joke, she added, “Spell inteligente.”

ENTELIGNTE, he tapped out, rendering us speechless.

He’s just taken off from there. “Spell calabaza,” I urged the other day. C-A-L-A, he typed. Then he looked at me and asked, “¿Con B o con V?

Con B,” I told him, completely floored, and added, for good measure, “y con Z.” Pleased, he turned back to the computer and typed, CALABAZA.

He spells words out phonetically, in Spanish, even when they’re English words Island becomes AILENT. Nancy becomes NANSI. IKEA becomes AEKIA. Recently he threw a major fit before bedtime because he wanted me to spell words for him on the Magna Doodle. I finally gave in, and after we wrote a few words together, he settled right down and went to sleep. He often greets our friends by spelling their names. His preschool teachers told me that he refused to go to the playground the other day until he spelled EXIT with wooden letters. He spelled CAT, one of them told me, starting with the T. He didn’t spell it backwards, he just started with the T and worked his way back. He’s reading complete sentences as quickly as I can write them on the Magna Doodle, an activity that makes him giggle delightedly.

When he first started to show an interest in letters and reading, I promised myself I would only encourage him, never push him. But he's insatiable, and as much as I give him, he's always ready for more. And now he’s taken the next step by himself—I noticed a shaky PR on the Magna Doodle the other day when I came back from work. Later, I watched him write it several times.

I don’t mean for this to be an obnoxious bragging post. It’s just that I’m truly fascinated by the whole thing. And to be honest, when I’m in a bad place, I’m slightly worried about it. If we’d never had that intervention with his teachers, I think I would feel nothing but pride, I’d be thinking my son is brilliant, it never would have occurred to me that anything might even be wrong. I wish I were utterly oblivious. But he does echo language a lot. I have a hard time getting him to answer questions. The letters are bordering on an obsession. P and I used to joke that Primo showed more of the “classic” signs of autism than Secondo. When he was younger he had this need to line up toys, straws, silverware. I completely disregarded the best advice I received—and followed—early on with Secondo, which was, “No obsessive Googling, it will just freak you out," and found out about hyperlexia, which--you guessed it--freaked me out.

I told Secondo’s new doctor, Dr. B, about Primo. “Trust your instincts,” he tells me. “They’ve been great so far.” The thing is, I don’t know anymore. My instincts do tell me that Primo is just fine. That he’s smart as a whip, a brainy boy, a boy who likes taking books to the playground, nothing more. And then I hate myself for doubting that, because I'm insanely proud of him and amazed by how smart he is. But his teachers planted that seed of doubt in my mind. And then I think of P's friends, whose son was diagonosed with PDD-NOS. They didn't catch it until he was older. He was reading, his mother tells me. We just thought he was smart. And if it weren’t for Secondo, I think I would find it really easy to laugh it all off, call his teachers crazy. But there is Secondo. So I’m heeding the advice I give other people, which is, It can’t hurt. Even if you're wrong, at least you’ll know.


Sadia said...

Brag away!! If something turns out to be wrong, you can deal with it then. For now, I, for one, permit you to bathe in the glory of my envy.

I'm not disappointed by my girls' interest in language, letters or the written word. But I'll admit that a small corner of me had hoped that they'd be reading by two, as did one of their parents.

Chris M. said...

Hi Keen,
I've been a big fan of your blog for some time, though mostly as a silent observer. Your son sounds exactly like my 2.5 year old with his letters and numbers. We've had him evaluated because he seems to be hypersensitive to noise and sounds, and they identified him as gifted - and it sounds a LOT like what you are seeing in Primo! I have a lot of great resources on children who are gifted, if you are interested, that we got from the gifted teacher. There are different lists / milestones / development cues to identify gifted children, which you may be interested in. Let me know if you'd like me to forward you the lists / links! As Sadia noted, brag away - that's something to be so proud of!
Chris M. (

KAL said...

Sam didn't say a word until after he turned two, but when he did, it was the entire alphabet and "A is for apple", etc. He would wake up each morning spelling. When he was 2.5 we were at the grocery store and he started sounding out words in the store ("deli" "soup" "cookie"). At four he can read everything and truly has a photographic memory. It astounds me. It's definitely a strength! He started off with a PDD-NOS diagnosis but our dev. ped. has changed it to HFA (high-functioning autism). I don't recall where you are in getting a diagnosis for Primo, or if you have even started. I think knowing one way or the other is best so you are armed with what he needs to learn. It sounds like he has a lot of incredibly positive things going for him already. Email me if you'd like - kal.twins@gmail.com