Friday, December 11, 2009

Pencil and paper

When Ben was about eighteen months old, he liked to color on a flip chart I brought home. He'd sit on the floor and fill up the entire thing with crayon scribbles over the course of several scribbling sessions. He used many different colored crayons and his strokes were big and bold and confident.

Then around age two, the coloring stopped.

Instead, he preferred Chris to draw characters and scenes from his favorite books. Chris' impressive drawing skills met Ben's intense need for verisimilitude. For awhile, we had drawing pads full of Chris' lovely sketches of Maurice Sendak characters, but no scribbles from Ben.

Because of his fine motor delays, drawing was hard. And things that are hard aren't fun.

And why struggle with scribbles when he could simply outsource his art to daddy and get a better result?

Optimistically, we kept bins of crayons and markers and paper on low tables around the house, knowing that if the urge to draw would ever strike, Ben would be only steps away from art supplies.

But over the next several years, they went almost entirely unused.

When he started his special education preschool and occupational therapy, we saw handwriting assignments that proved he was writing at school, but it wasn't something he ever chose to do at home.

As kindergarten approached, I was anxious about his lack interest in writing and drawing. After all, at school, the primary means for demonstrating what you know is still with pencil and paper.

But his new occupational therapist did something I wasn't expecting.

She didn't pull him out of class to work one-on-one with him on handwriting drills. Instead, she worked out a deal with his classroom teacher that she would come to class once a week and work on handwriting activities with the whole class, then focus on Ben and one other student with OT services during the independent work.


Lots of kindergardeners without IEPs need help with handwriting. The whole class is benefiting, and best of all, Ben isn't singled out as getting "special" help, nor is he missing out on classroom activities to leave for OT.

As a result, his handwriting has improved and he's needing minimal prompting in class to do the work. And he's doing something he never did before: occasionally writing and drawing at home on his own.

Exhibit A: Wall-E and Eve


Exhibit B: A roster of the Superfriends


Exhibit C: Self-portrait (created at school)


Exhibit D: non-required coloring (in the lines! multiple colors!) on a homework assignment


And then there was this.

One morning this week Ben had one of those out-of-nowhere meltdowns that just kept going on and on and on. He would scream at us, go in his room, slam the door, come out several minutes later to provoke another confrontation, go back in his room, slam, scream, sulk, slam, scream, repeat.

Then he stomped into the kitchen. He quietly and methodically collected a black marker, a piece of paper, and a roll of tape, made this neatly-lettered sign and taped it on his door.


Right after that, the tantrum was over. He was his sweet self again and he apologized. It was the first time he'd used writing as a communicative act.

Perhaps in the process of planning out how to make the sign and write the words, that frontal lobe logical brain had to turn on, deactivating the fight or flight lizard brain for a moment.

Whatever it was, there is indeed power in the pen.


Homework time


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Ben has a wonderful OT. The proof is on the page, eh?

Heather said...

does he use an Ot "stuff" On our last go 'round w/ private OT they introduced a slant board and a weighted pencil and I was amazed at the difference it made. I sent those to school, so we just use a 3" binder for a slant board at home. I would pay to have my girl write something like that "go away" instead of the alternate! he's awesome.

pixiemama said...


To all of it.

Saw the amazing self-portrait on Twitter but the whole package?


Yay, Ben! & yay you, if the written communication continues to calm the tantrums!

Laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing this.
That picture of him working on homework could be in an OT journal to demonstrate the perfect pencil grasp! :)
And I'm so happy to see his multi-colored inside-the-lines coloring...we work a lot on that in class!
Really...this made my week reading this.

Anonymous said...

I continue to be amazed by the complexity of the human brain, and by my grandson's ability to continually astound me with his innate abilities. I have experienced many staff members attempts to write notes, and they are almost illegible. The downside is Ben will never be a doctor; he prints too well!! LOL May serendipity continue to fill your lives and provide those Pasteur moments. Happy holidays Grandpa Bill

drama mama said...

I LOVE THIS. I love it because your experience was our experience. Somewhere, I have a post about the K self-portrait - a squiggle on a page that the teacher decided to pointedly exhibit for Open House.

The writing thing drove me nuts.

A few years ago, like Ben, Miss M left me little notes - if she was angry she'd write down her issue with me: YOU DID NOT GIVE ME ENOUGH TIME TO TIE MY SHOES! to I LOVE YOU MOM (found an old one of those today, stuck in an Xmas storage box)

One thing that you can do is have a little mailbox - left on a desk, a shelf, wherever, where you guys can write notes back and forth.

I LOVE that he is so expressive with you about FEELINGS -

such gold here.

ezra said...

Hi. I just discovered your blog. I feel that you are writing my life. I am new at this condition and your blog has been an eye opener that (1) I am not alone (2) it's okay (3) I don't need to panic. Thanks so much for sharing...

jaki said...

once again, wonderful observations and translations! I think I'm in love with Ben's OT!!

Penguin Lady said...

After three years of weekly OT and now a year-and-a-half of a "special" school setting with OT in the classroom for all, Will is writing and drawing for fun. He, too, went "dark" at about age 2-3, no longer having ANY interest in even scribbling. Saturday, at a restaurant, he picked up the table crayons and started drawing a car (his obsession). He's nearly 7. I was careful not to interrupt, still so new to seeing him do this. His handwriting rivals his "typical" peers and he is great at cursive (his school teaches it in kindergarten b/c it's so much easier for sensory kids). LOVE those OTs for making it so fun. Thanks for sharing!

Jordan said...

That's really wonderful, Christa. And, man, do I wish he were in Lyle's class because he could really use that extra help...his writing and drawing is not where Ben's is yet. Nice job, Ben!