The other day I was looking back through my blog archives about Luke's handwriting and the special paper we've used. I came across the photo I shared back in February of 2009 of Luke's handwriting.
At that time, Luke had been diagnosed with ADHD and his handwriting deficiency was noted in a clinical setting but we still hadn't received any sort of help for the problem. We were appealing the special education inclusion denial.
Take a look at his handwriting today, one year later.
It is a remarkable difference. What's happened in the last year to see such improvement? Lots of things (and not nearly enough, but I'll get to that in a moment).
Shortly after the first writing sample, back in Spring 2009, Luke was denied special education for good. I was told he was too intelligent so he didn't meet the qualifications. (I have a little friend, a friend of my daughter's really, who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, and more challenges. She scored a 72 on the WISC intelligence test, just 3 meager points above "Intellectually Deficient" and she was also denied special education in the same school. WHAT?!! I always thought special education was to HELP kids who struggle in school. She struggles so immensely it hurts my heart. But that's a topic for a different post.)
So we were denied special education which meant no help for Luke's handwriting at school. Again, my brain is screaming, "WHAT?!!" A child is struggling with a skill taught in school and the school says they can't help him because it's not causing him to fail and he's not "Intellectually Deficient" which has nothing to do with handwriting anyway. I am trying so hard not to get wound up revisiting the subject.
The school occupational therapist was allowed to consult on the 504 Plan accommodations meeting and make suggestions for myself and the classroom teacher. She suggested pencil grips and specialized paper. He was also given an official accommodation hat he can read back the letters on his spelling test if they aren't legible or questionable. You'll see that in the first photo where he wrote find "finb" because he often writes letters backward. He was able to tell her the correct spelling and she was able to give him credit for it because of this accommodation.) The school wouldn't allow the Handwriting Without Tears program, even though the school board's head of special ed in our district suggested it, because they didn't have the money to purchase it (they had just given teachers in NC a blanket pay cut and were about to lay off 5-7 in our school alone).
So a couple suggestions were made and he was thrown back to the classroom teacher who had Luke and 24 other kids to educate. She really did her best to help him but he needed the skill sets of an occupational therapist to tackle this issue.
So, in June 2009, despite not having the funds for it, I found an occupational therapist that accepted our health insurance and would be covered under a specialist copay. Sounds great that it was covered, right? Not really. I was essentially out of work because the real estate market was in crisis and I hadn't had any income for nearly 6 months at that point. $200 a month for OT was not feasible. So I worked out a plan with the OT folks that he would come every other week and I could pay be credit card. It is my strict personal policy not to carry a balance on a credit card since getting into deep financial poo with credit cards in college. But here I was making a special circumstance and going against my own rule and going into debt so I could get my son the help he needed and deserved when the school wouldn't provide it. He immediately started the Handwriting Without Tears program. As well, this therapist worked with different pencil grips and papers to try to find the combination that works best for him.
He did Handwriting Without Tears twice a month for about 5 months. When we reached a plateau with improvement, I asked that they scale back on the handwriting and work with him on sensory issues, being in control of his body, stopping and thinking before acting, etc. The handwriting had improved but you had to be me or his teacher to decipher it, and many times even we couldn't still. The school purchased the raised line paper the occupational therapist had suggested but it didn't help. He just went right over the bump to go beyond the line. I was out of ideas.
This past fall, in 2nd grade, he began refusing to use pencil grips and special paper, etc. He is extremely sensitive to being different from his peers and these things made him different. That was certainly a setback. By happenstance one day, I spotted some new paper from Mead for helping small children learn handwriting -- I found it in the craft store of all places. It was paper with 3-sided boxes for each letter and stop and go lines on the left and right for the margins. Luke's handwriting changed immediately using this paper. He had to slow down and concentrate to get a letter in each box and his writing became mostly legible. However, he still refused to use that paper at school, where he needs it most. We use it at home for spelling practice and homework though and it is wonderful (as you can see in the 2nd photo above).
Medication has also helped immensely, when it is working. We have been through constant medication trials over the last year and finally seem to have landed on a combo that is going to work for Luke. Since starting these last meds, his handwriting is the best it's been. You see, the trick for Luke is to slow down. When the medication is helping him take his time and the format of the paper is forcing him to slow down, his writing is astoundingly improved.
Now if I can just figure out how to get him to use that paper at school, we'll be doing great! I think it's that the stop and go signs are feeling babyish to him. I have not seen this paper in a more mature form anywhere though. Maybe I can white out the stop and go on all the pages? Hmmm...
One more bit of "look how far we've come" news: Luke is receiving an award for academic growth at school again this year. I am so thankful he has had teachers that recognize his accomplishments despite his struggles. I can't wait to go to the ceremony Wednesday. I'll be sure to share photos next week.