Me: Cub that’s a great drawing, what is it?
Cub: It’s an octopus.
Me: That’s great, lets label it.
Cub: Ok how do you spell Octopus? I know it starts with an O
Me: O-C-T-O-P-U-S, (to which he dutifully wrote each letter in a mostly straight line!)
To say we celebrated was an understatement.
I still celebrate every time I watch Cub write something. Each time, I remember the extra effort we both put in to get him there. I am proud when I see a new sign on his door he wrote, because not long ago he couldn’t use the crayons we were given at a restaurant. The first sign we had of Cub’s autism was a developmental delay in his fine motor skills. These are the exact skills needed to color, draw, and write.
For his preschool years we took Cub twice a week to Occupational Therapy sessions. They would work on stringing beads, and digging in the rice to find treasures. He would shape play-doh and maybe if she was lucky they would create a picture to take home. Eventually he started to draw lines, light faded lines from not pushing hard, holding the pencil tight was hard enough. His therapist was amazing. She worked patiently with him and earned his trust and in return he tried the new things she asked. I was so sad when she announced she was expecting her first child and we could either take a break or be paired with another therapist. Cub had made great strides and she had taught me many of the activities she was doing with him so we could keep doing them at home.
I prepared his Kindergarten materials, including the Handwriting Without Tears workbook his OT had recommended for him. The only problem was a few weeks into the year there were tears; tears and screaming. He could read the letters, he knew the shape of the letters, he knew the sounds of the letters, but he couldn’t write the letters. We gave up and quit doing handwriting. Sometimes I would try to trick him into picking up a pencil, but he was too smart for that trick and wouldn’t fall for it.
Writing was unlocked
During an “after Christmas Clearance” sale I picked up a kid-size easel and chalkboard: I thought it would be a fun creative space for the kids to draw or create. It ended up being the key to unlock writing for Cub. Lynn, my artist, enjoyed drawing on the new chalkboard right away. Cub copied her and drew a circle with several lines coming off of it. That’s when the magic conversation happened Slowly he wrote each letter to form the word to form Octopus. He wrote a word!
We repeated the drawing on the chalkboard and labeling it for several months. We started using a Step by Step Drawing Book to give us simple drawing ideas which also helped us practice drawing shapes. At the very end of the school year I pulled out the Handwriting Without Tears book. This time though there no tears, only pride. He quickly worked through the book!
Sometimes our differently wired kids remind us that the skills they need are there all along we just have to work with them to find the way to release the them. Cub is now 7. He has slowly but surely showed me that he wants to get his ideas out but he is doing it in his own time and his own methods. This year his writing took off when we used a Star Wars writing book. He was previously bored doing a page of copywork but the Star Wars content motivated him to complete 2 pages a day without me prompting him. He is finally writing in a journal and picking up a pencil to draw his own pictures.
Sometimes we just have to remember:
It takes time, Mama, It takes time.