Monday, September 19, 2016

Published Monday, September 19, 2016 by

On his way to being an independent writer - after 2 years of resisting

overcoming a resistance to writing, a major step forward for my son with autism

Talk about a big week - school have sent a report home with the statement that our Son is starting to become a more independent writer. After 2 years of resisting all attempts of trying to get him to write.

I am beyond excited and proud.

Our previous challenges with writing

At nursery he learnt how to write the alphabet, but needed plenty of encouragement to do this. His refusal to write began when he started school, when he even started refusing to draw pictures. His teacher often spoke of the challenges she had trying to get him to write - including one occasion when there was a 2 hour stand-off as she tried to get him to write a story.

We had all sorts of excuses including "I don't know how", "my hand is tired" and "my brain is not working".

He would try anything to get out of writing - trying to negotiate doing something else, getting people to write on his behalf, going into a 'silly mode' where he would do silly things and make strange noises, and running & hiding.  Persistent requests would result in increasingly aggressive behaviour which could end up in him tearing up his paper, turning over tables & chairs and lashing out at anyone hear him.

While other parents were able to enjoy their childrens' newly developed writing skills, with signed cards and lovingly written notes which they could put on their fridge, we struggled to get our Son to hold a pencil.

Trying to understand why writing was an issue

For a long time we didn't know why writing was such an issue, and we felt like it was because we didn't spend enough time at home encouraging him to write. The problem was that the more we tried to get him to write, the more he would resist picking up a pen.

We knew that he was capable of writing, and an occupational therapy assessment had ruled out any difficulties with fine motor skills - so why was he resisting so much when his classmates were enjoying their improved ability to write.

It was after an assessment by an Educational Psychologist that we found out that his challenges with writing were likely due to a number of factors, including:
  • The frustration of not being able to form letters that looked exactly like what he was being shown
  • His not being able to write as quickly as he can think
  • Struggling with the pressure of having to write something within a certain timeframe when asked to complete a writing task

The writing process involves skills in language, organization, motor control and planning, and sensory processing: four areas that are problematic for many individuals with ASD. It is essential that parents and teachers consider how each of these areas may be affecting a student’s aversion to the writing process.

The big realisation for us was that it was not about trying harder to get him to write - he needed the space to develop his skills without unnecessary pressure. We also learnt that there are a number of ways that children can learn in school without needing to write. 

He could succeed at school, despite not wanting to write. All you need is a little creativity, and a great deal of patience. 

What we have tried

The first thing we did was that we took away the pressure of writing. We still tried to encourage him to write, however we never forced the issue.

At home we came up with games to practice letter formation including:
  • Writing letters in flour & sand
  • Tracing letters with our fingers
  • Creating dot-to-dot letter and number pictures
  • Drawing pictures to practice holding a pen/ pencil, and improve pen control
  • Using an iPhone handwriting game, where you had to trace letters to win points
  • Getting him to draw pictures about what we need to get in our weekly shop

At school they used strategies to help him learn without the need to write, including:
  • Learning to type, so he could write on the computer
  • Online math games to practice his number skills
  • Working with a TA who would write down the answers he gave for questions

One of the novel ideas that we came up with was using google images to practice spelling - he would type in a word to bring back the right image on google. This was one of the more successful strategies for us as he is obsessed with google.

Over time we have noticed less resistance to writing words, and he is becoming more responsive to our open invitations to help us write cards (fathers day was our first success) and make lists of things that we need to remember for different activities (he likes to be in control of helping to plan for things).

Just last week he volunteered (yes, volunteered) to write a reminder for his Dad to not forget dessert whilst he was out shopping.

Looking ahead

He still has a long way to go before he reaches the stage of writing multiple sentences to tell a story, however the news from his school tells us that he has already made great leaps and bounds in the past few months.

I already have the perfect spot on my fridge, just waiting for his first story.

Resources we found to help with writing

Have you had difficulties with getting your child to write? What strategies have worked for you? Share your stories in the comments below. 
Spectrum Sunday