Differently Abled..? A Story About Letters, Literacy, And Being Nonverbal In Two Languages.

This is a picture of something Penguin created in a drawing app on his iPad last night. He was laying down, scribbling away on the screen, with a contented smile on his face, looking like he was very pleased with his project. At first glance it might look like a random mess of scribbles, and when I first saw it I couldn’t quite make sense of it either. I sat down next to him to see what he was doing…

Yellow and black letters jumbled on top of each other on a lilac background. Creation by Penguin of sensationallearningwithpenguin.com

He grabbed my finger and used it as a pen, to write the letter E in yellow on top of the ’scribbles’. He then marked the outlines of the E in black. I backed off and let him continue his work without my involvement, but kept an eye on it to see what letters that followed. I assumed it would be something he’s seen written, most likely in a video, as he tends to pick up written words & phrases that way.

The E was followed by an L, then another E, then an F, and I realised that what he was writing was the title of the most popular Swedish children’s tv show ever: ’FEM MYROR ÄR FLER ÄN FYRA ELEFANTER’ – meaning ’five ants are more that four elephants’.

Penguin was born in Sweden and we lived there until he was 9 (I’m from there, while hubby is English), and he’s watched that tv series since he was tiny. He’s written part of the title of it using magnetic letters before, so I wasn’t shocked that he knew it. But the way he was writing it, with his finger and adding black outlines, was new. And I was impressed that he kept track of all the letters in his mind even though they were on top of each other, so he couldn’t see clearly what was already there (meaning he must remember the words letter by letter, rather than as a ’picture’, if you see what I mean?).

It’s funny, he’s at an ’emergent’ level in literacy and doesn’t read or write in a traditional sense, yet. But at the same time, he has traits of hyperlexia, was very early learning the alphabet, and knows very well what sound each letter corresponds to. Also, having lived in Sweden for so many years, he’s bilingual, while also being nonverbal so in a way could be seen as not having a language at all.

In this context, the term ’differently abled’ doesn’t seem all that wrong to me…?

"Differently Abled...? A Story About Letters, Literacy, And Being Nonverbal In Two Langages"
Image of yellow and black letters jumbled on top of each other, on a lilac background.
Text below image: Sensational Learning With Penguin - a blog about life, learning & autism

Thanks so much for reading! If you have any thoughts on what you’ve just read, please let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed reading this post, you’re of course always welcome to share it with others x

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21 thoughts on “Differently Abled..? A Story About Letters, Literacy, And Being Nonverbal In Two Languages.

  1. I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘differently abled’ (just a personal preference and I don’t wish to offend) but this is amazing work. I love that he’s spelt it rather than visualised the words as a whole picture- I imagine it was wonderful to watch, you must have been brimming with pride. I also think the yellow and black makes a pretty cool design!

    Katrina x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Katrina! I know how ‘differently abled’ is sometimes used as a euphemism for ‘disabled’, and I don’t like that – when ‘disabled’ is what is meant, then that’s the best word for it. But for things like this, where it’s about an ability that is differing to the norm but not disabling, I think the term fits. But of course it’s up to each individual what terminology we use about things, as long as it’s not blatantly harmful or with ill intentions.
      You’re absolutely right that I loved seeing him spelling the words out, and with that graphic ‘design’ too 🙂 I need to help him find ways of putting the strengths he’s got to some kind of constructive use I think… in time. No pressure though as he’d lose the joy if it became a demand xx


  2. I love how you share Penguins story, I wish that other parents would read this and understand that every child learns differently, and I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy’s comment. Just because our children learn differently doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

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