Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quiet Seasons of Growth

This might not look like too much, but it is. It's HUGE.

You can read that word on the left, can't you? It says "top", and it's quite legible. It is one of Aidan's favorite words. Aidan loves tops, and he has known how to orally spell the word "top" since about this summer. He learned it on his V-Tech phonics board. (I'm not usually very into buying electronic toys, but this one has been a boon for Aidan -- he loves the games, and they are useful games, not simply gimmicky).

Today I was sitting by the fireplace writing out lesson notes for early American history. Aidan came up and said, "I want to write TOP."

For perspective, look at a bit of a Handwriting without Tears placement test that Aidan's occupational therapist gave him last April.

You can see how she wrote the letters under the lines to help him, and to identify for the future what he was trying to write. The scribbles are his. (I took a lot more pictures, they all turned out blurry -- but you can get the idea, anyway, from this one).

Since then, he has not been doing a whole lot of writing practice. Ok, a few times he got out his HWT writing book either because he wanted to or because I asked him to, and a couple more times I guided his hand through a few words. But no intensive practice. Partly this was because he was so obviously not developmentally interested in it. He would draw every now and then, so I could tell he was increasing in fine motor control.

But when he took my pen and casually scratched out a T, an O and a P as if he did it every day, it really wasn't an everyday thing. In fact, he's never voluntarily even written a letter except A's and X's. And last time I tried to have him write a word, he had no concept of placement. He put one letter in the middle, another at the top of the page, and so on.

This is what we have been doing most recently, and this is his PLAAFP from last spring (PLAAFP is the term of endearment for Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance, in case you aren't up to date on special needs language). Under penmanship, I had written:

For penmanship, he is just starting the Handwriting without Tears first grade book, having finished the pre-Kindergarten and kindergarten books over the past couple of years. He can trace letters fairly well but has great difficulty in free-handing letter shapes, even when he has a model in front of him to copy. We have worked a lot with the Handwriting without Tears wooden letter forms and it took him a lot of time to be able to construct letters with these. He can draw lines and curves fairly easily and has a fairly good grasp on the pen and fairly good posture and pencil pressure, according to Aidan’s occupational therapist.

His difficulty seems to lie in planning and constructing a letter shape. He has made some progress with verbal instructions in handwriting (start at the top, draw a line down, now back up and make a curve). I think that a system of verbal instructions along with tracing and copying – in other words, a multi-sensory approach – is going to be the best way to go with him next year.

Goals for Aidan in the next year are that he is able to write all the lower case letters and form some short words. We are also looking into the possibility of an alphabetic keyboard in order to allow him to progress in word and sentence composition while his writing skills catch up.

As I mentioned there, this child's problem has always been what the therapists call "praxis" -- that is, motor processing. He has recognized letters for years -- since he was about 4 -- and coule say their "sounds", but has been unable to blend them into words and has been unable to write many letters correctly. He has a tendency to get lost in the pathways between his head and his hands (or mouth -- the same problem kept him from being able to talk until he was past three years old). He had a stroke in infancy which left him partially paralyzed on the left side, and though he has made great strides since then, he is functioning developmentally at slightly more than half his chronological age.

So to show interest, and ability like that is an amazing leap forward. I didn't even really do the verbal instructions and all. Just a bit, maybe. And I think he did most of that multi-sensory input on his own.

It gives me renewed faith in those hidden, quiet seasons of growth. Sure, I was encouraging, assisting, asking him to practice, trying to work on the building blocks of readiness, but it happened when he was ready. Looking back at that hidden season, I see that he has been working intensely the past few weeks making words on the refrigerator with his leapfrog letter magnets, and typing words into his phonics board, and spelling "What does T -O -P spell? TOP!" again and again. He has been building with Duplos, rolling and shaping Playdough... basically, seeing and making forms in his environment. So this was one of the pay-offs, the sprouts from those quietly germinating seeds, and with it, increased competence and confidence for him in an area that is important to him.

Encouraged by his newly discovered talent and by praise (we think Aidan's love language is verbal appreciation, and children unlike adults do respond to praise if it's not manipulative) he went on to write several more words -- a couple of samples:

Yes, you can still see the praxis problems. For some of the letters, he had to look at a model I wrote for him. He still gets lost in the middle of some letters and forgets what he is doing. But you can read the words, can't you? That's HUGE!


Theresa said...

That is wonderful!!!! So happy for you both!!!

Laura A said...

Hey, that's just great! Congratulations, Aidan!

Carolyn said...

Hooray!! What a wonderful jump in skills.

Anonymous said...

That is so wonderful. And reminds me of how often we are surprised by big leaps like that, even for kids who don't have "special needs". Against all the evidence we think growth and learning are continuous but they aren't. They come in spurts.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a developmental leap -- and it was on his own terms. :-) Thank you for sharing this.

Amy said...

Congratulations, Aidan!

Sailmom said...

Congratulations, Aiden! I'm one of your lurking readers, but I had to thank you for sharing Aiden's educational journey. My 2.5yo little guy shares many of the same challenges and sometimes the road ahead is overwhelming to think about, but seeing Aiden's successes is so encouraging! I have so many of your posts bookmarked and printed out for the future! Thank you!

Us! said...

Congratulation Aidan and Mom!! That is so great!