Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Boy Who Reads Road Signs

My nine-year-old son (who has autism) could acknowledge certain signs well before he could actually read. At the age of two, like many toddlers, he used to make protesting sounds when passing the Golden Arches. At the age of three my husband and I were becoming alarmed that his language skills weren't as developed as they should be for that age and we (or at least I) did not recognize the signs of autism.

However, my son could say a few words. Some of those words were related to road signs. "Burger King" was a favorite phrase back then. My husband and I remember a time when my son shouted "Burger King!" in his sleep while we were on vacation. What can I say? My son loves fast foods and the toys that comes in the kid meals.

Anyway, other recognized road signs by age five were for Meijer, K-mart, and Bob Evans. At ages seven and eight my boy would greet me at the door upon my return from various shopping trips. He'd always look at my bags and know exactly where I had been because stores usually print their logos on the shopping bags.

At age nine my son is a pretty good reader and he reads signs wherever we go. If we are in the car, he'll read road
signs. Or, if we are in a building, he'll read the signs posted in the building. This means I don't have to worry about him going into the women's restroom instead of the men's. He also knows where all the exits and emergency exits are in the local businesses we patronize. Needless to say, my son has an excellent sense of direction. He always seems to know where he is and often uses signs to help him further develop his sense of direction.

As for me, I pride myself on not getting lost and being able to follow (location) directions. However, occasionally I'll make a wrong turn or miss an exit on the expressway. If my son is with me, he'll often notices my mistake before I do. Yesterday, he helped me avoid making what could have been a mildly embarrassing mistake.

We had just dropped my youngest boy off at his music class for preschoolers and had about twenty minutes to fill. My oldest son knew it was election day because he had the day off so that voters could come to his school to vote without being disruptive (and a potential security threat as well). As a result of his knowledge, he indicated that he wanted to accompany me to the polls. So that is why I decided to use the music class time to vote instead of waiting for my husband to come home at five.

When we arrived at the school my son immediately zoned in on the black and white "Vote Here" signs. He, not I, noticed that the signs had a hand with a finger pointing in the correct direction. I thought I knew where to go because I have been in the area for five years and had voted at the school many times. So, I started toward the gymnasium where the polling has always occurred in the past and didn't pay attention to the signs.

I started to head for the gym when my son said exclaimed "They are voting in cafeteria!" The gym is in the opposite direction and (with a lot of things of my mind that day) I probably would not have realized my mistake until I saw the big empty room--or worse. I could have had my mistake corrected by a teacher or staff member at the school for their inservice day before I even reached the gym. Instead, my son, the one who has autism, efficiently made sure I went to the right place.

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