To say that I have always been a late bloomer in life is kind of like saying the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand played a minor role in the start of World War I.
It’s the understatement of all understatements.
Growing up, it seemed like I was always the last kid my age to learn how to do most anything. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike without training wheels until I was in the third grade. I didn’t learn how to hit a baseball until … well, ever. I still can’t. I didn’t get my first kiss until I was a junior in college (no … seriously).
To be honest, though, none of that ever bothered me very much. I found ways to cope. While other kids were riding their bikes, my mom was driving me every place I wanted to go. While other kids were hitting baseballs, I was getting an early start on my sports writing career. While other kids were getting their first kiss, I was … OK, that one kind of bothered me.
Still, though, I always found ways to cope with the fact I was behind the learning curve when it came to my peers. As far as I was concerned, I had the great equalizer in my back pocket.
I was one of the first kids my age to learn to read.
So long as I had that going for me, I didn’t much care what other kids were able to do. Let them ride their bikes around the neighborhood — I was content sitting in my room and devouring every piece of literature on which I could get my grubby little hands (and yes, my hands were particularly grubby — I was behind everyone else when it came to learning proper hygiene was well). I didn’t need friends who were able to hit a baseball a country mile — I had my books to keep me company.
When I became a parent nearly a decade ago, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to teach my kids how to ride a bike, hit a curveball or get off the perfect jump shot. I had high hopes I would be able to teach them how to skip a rock across a pond, fix a leaky sink or change the oil in their cars — but couldn’t possibly be sure, since I still can’t do any of those things to this very day.
But I always knew I would be able to teach them how to read and share my love of the written word.
Or so I thought.
Four years ago, our son Maximilian was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At the time — like so many parents of children on the spectrum — Michelle and I had no clue what Max would and would not be able to do. We never knew if he would be able to talk, we never knew if he would be able to live by himself, we never knew if he’d be able to have “normal” social interactions with other children … we didn’t know — and in same cases, still do not know — what Max will or will not be able to do.
And we didn’t know if he’d ever learn to read.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch watching “Teen Mom 2” on television (nothing but high-brow entertainment in the Fong household) when Max came up to me holding a book, Doctor Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” When he climbed up into my lap, I assumed he wanted me to read the book to him.
As we opened to the first page, Max recited the book’s eponymous first line, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish …”
I began thinking someone else had read the book to him so often that he had memorized the first line. I was filled with pride and joy that he was able to remember the first line, then got ready to ready the rest of the book to him. A funny thing happened, though.
Max read the next line. And the next. And the one after that. My little boy read every single line on all 63 pages of the book. He didn’t flub a single word.
You know, as the parent of a child with special needs, I think there are times I get a little too hung up worrying about things my son can’t do. Not a day goes by in which he doesn’t remind me that maybe instead of focusing on what he can’t do, I need to focus on the things he can do.
I sat there in complete silence as Max finished his book. It’s a good thing he was able to do it all by himself — it gets a little hard to read when your eyes are filled with tears.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at (937) 440-5228 or firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong