TRYST WITH HANDWRITING
As with many children on the spectrum Siddhanth faced many challenges when it came to writing. At the kindergarten school that he was attending, writing the alphabet was taught to the kids in Junior KG. Right from the outset it was an area of difficulty for Siddhanth. In the previous year in nursery class they only had play activities and oral recitation of basic GK and nursery rhymes which he enjoyed thoroughly. He was an active participant at school thoroughly involved in whatever was done in class. At that stage we could not figure out the cause for his writing challenges as he was diagnosed only in Senior KG. It was pathetic to see his little face clouding with disappointment and frustration after trying sincerely. He always wanted to take bigger challenges and wanted to try writing the letter ‘M’ first. Nevertheless his spirit persisted and slowly and steadily he learnt to write the capital letters.
Once Siddhanth was diagnosed and Occupational Therapy(OT) sessions commenced, we were regularly practising fine motor table top activities with him which helped him to a certain extent. The occupational therapist also suggested tracing slanting lines, sleeping lines and curves which he was regularly practising. Siddhanth was addicted to the children’s magazine ‘ Magic Pot’, a Malayala Manorama publication. As the issues had many fine motor activities, Siddhanth loved learning in a fun away. Based on the print material that I had access to at Forum for Autism’s library (those were pre-Internet days), I tried other stuff with him like grouping letters – based on strokes which had to be written below the line, above the line and so on.
Though there was individual improvement in Siddhanth’s handwriting, he was always one step behind his peers. He was still on capital letters while others moved on to small letters and by the time he reached small letters, his classmates had moved on to cursive writing. Writing in small font to fit into the lines or writing in red and blue line notebooks were all challenges for him. When I started attending workshops on Autism, I started gaining insights on fine motor activities which could help and how even visual perceptions come into the picture such as the colour appearing brighter or faded, or the depth of a line appearing different.
Around the same time during one of our routine visits to the Developmental Paediatrician , Siddhanth was fascinated by her laptop. Observing his interest she encouraged him to type out answers to her queries and to our surprise we found him doing that fluently, way better than his verbal answers. On her suggestion to encourage him to type, my husband asked Siddhanth to type out about the day on our return home. To our delightful surprise, he typed beautifully about the whole day in sequence and left us amazed with his detailed observations including the hoardings and banners that he saw from the local train on the way to the developmental paediatrician’ s centre.
So in a way, Siddhanth’s typing abilities increased his self – esteem and motivated him and us to keep working on his handwriting. After his first grade, we went to his occupational therapist for a review meeting. Armed with the knowledge of her recent training session with Action for Autism and with the experience she had gained with more kids, she made a detailed assessment . She went on to point out that Siddhanth had weak shoulder muscles and suggested exercises to strengthen them such as crawling, wheelbarrow walking and stretching exercises. This was a turning point for Siddhanth in his tryst with handwriting. On doing those exercises regularly, within a few days his handwriting speed increased . His inclusive school had already permitted him to write in print letters. Now he was able to write in cursive letters also. A special educator at school gave him a small plastic strip to place after each word with his left hand to increase the space between words. This habit weaned off quickly when the desired effect was learnt. The font was still big and it was suggested to him to write on alternate lines to make the handwriting look more presentable.During his entire primary schooling, vacations would include regular copy writing by him.
Mid school gave rise to 3 hour long exam papers with long essay-type answers . This again proved challenging for Siddhanth. His hands would pain and in every paper he would begin with small handwriting and move on to bigger and bigger writing until it turned into a scrawl. Permission to use a computer for exams helped him to overcome this challenge.
It was only when Siddhanth was around 16 that we could find access to swimming classes for him as by then they had been started for individuals with special needs by persons specially trained for the same. In his younger days all our efforts to find a swimming pool or a coach did not bear fruit. So again though he still had weak shoulder muscles , swimming helped him in many ways including in his handwriting.
My purpose of writing this blog is only to underline the fact that autism is a hidden disorder. There can be various reasons for the challenges faced by our children to learn any kind of skill. Dedicated professionals, supportive educational system and a loving , encouraging atmosphere at home can assist our children in mitigating the hardships they face while continuing to keep them motivated to do their best in learning any new skill.
By Jaya Sudhakar
Jaya Sudhakar has done her Masters in Physics and was employed as an Asst.Manager in a PSU. Her son’s diagnosis urged her to seek voluntary retirement from service . She is actively involved with Forum for Autism, Nayi Disha and The Spectrum Autism. Friends,tending to plants, reading, writing, music, movies, travelling and a little bit of spirituality are her perennial energy boosters.
Typing of story in Word and Creative graphics done by CreativeSaathi Siddhanth Palaparti, Jaya’s son
Siddhanth is a budding graphic designer, coder and music lover. He has graduated in computer applications and completed several certificate courses. His work trajectory includes internships, freelancing and voluntary work for social causes. He derives immense happiness from remembering birthdays and wishing everyone for it. Swimming, travelling and playing music on the keyboard are his other passions.