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

autism and meltdowns, reflecting on the progress we have made in reducing the frequency of our son's meltdowns

What do you do when your 6yo kicks in your door, as a result of escalating frustration because they were told they can't have the iPad?

This happened when my Son was with our childminder recently -  I was gutted when I got a photo of our broken door and a voicemail telling me what had just happened. Even so, it reminded me of how far we have come as it has been a couple of months since we last experience a meltdown.

Imagine being in an emotional state that you can't get out of, where you are so worked up that you are no longer in control of your actions. You are beyond listening and your brain is just screaming NO.

This is a meltdown - a state that many children with autism experience, often as a result of anxiety from an underlying trigger.
At its worst we were experiencing meltdowns 3-4 times a week.

Meltdowns have been one of our biggest challenges for the past couple of years, and has often resulted in damage to the house and toys or lashing out at people close by. At its worst we were experiencing meltdowns 3-4 times a week. Every day seemed to be filled with challenging behaviour and I didn't feel like I could cope with looking after our Son.

So what changed?

We are more aware of the situations that are likely to cause anxiety and how to avoid them, he is now in a school where he can get the support he needs, and we have also have got better at  managing his anxiety using several strategies to avoid meltdowns

I am thankful that we can now largely avoid getting to this flashpoint by managing his anxiety 

As for my son, we calmly spoke later about what happened and talked about what he could do differently when he is feeling that way. He is now taking on small jobs in the house to 'pay' for the door.

Now I just need to work with the childminder to help her understand more about what is likely to trigger meltdowns, and what strategies she can try to use to avoid situations like this in the future.
Spectrum Sunday


Our relationship with school could be described as rocky.

A year ago we faced the start of the new school year without a school, and three months later there was an emergency EHCP review and a request by the new school to move our Son to a special BESD (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties) school.

This year we have a school, and I have been thinking about my hopes for the year ahead.

My hopes for the year ahead include:
  • Staying at the school: after 3 schools in 2 years, I really hope that we will finish the school year in the same school that we started
  • Building school relationships: we have learnt the hard way how difficult things are when you don't have the schools support, this year I want to build strong relationships with the school so that we can collaborate together to support my Son.
  • Making a friend: my Son desperately wants to make friends, however his difficulties with social communication and interactions means that he struggles to make connections with his peers. Making a friends is one of my greatest wishes for my Son.
  • Writing a paragraph: writing has always been a struggle as my Son has always resisted any attempts to get him to write. He is capable of writing and has written simple sentences, he just chooses not too. I am looking forward to reading his first written story, as he has a great imagination. 
  • Less negotiation: any request to do something is usually countered with an attempt to negotiate the request, and a good dose of resistance & avoidance. Less frequent negotiation will certainly make my daily life a little easier. 
  • Some consideration:  emotional self-regulation and theory of mind are two key areas that we are focusing on to support my Son's needs, any progress in my Son's ability to self-regulate his emotions and consider other people's points of view will be a major milestone for us.

Fingers crossed, this year our school relationship is a little less rocky and lot more positive as we build on the progress that we started to make at the end of last year.
My Random Musings
Diary of an imperfect mum
Spectrum Sunday

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