They were only four sentences on a page. About twenty words, no more. They meant nothing; just a recap of a short story they’d been reading in class. To anyone else they would just be some words written by a five year old, quite neatly written, but nothing special, and fewer than most five year olds could write. To me, they were everything.
When the child’s teacher told me in September that we’d need to do something about his fine motor control – discussed in my previous blog ‘We need to talk about your child’ – I thought perhaps we’d never see this day. He couldn’t write then, or not in any functional sense. Oh, he could have a go (if you bribed/ blackmailed/ forced him) at chucking some words down on the page, but it was painful to watch. He couldn’t hold the pencil properly. He didn’t have control over the pencil when he did hold it. He would write three letters, and his hand would hurt or get tired. He cried when I asked him to write, because he knew he couldn’t do it. And this was despite his lovely reception teachers encouraging and helping him every step of the way, so that by the end of reception he would at least pick up a pencil. When he started year 1, the teacher made me realise that it wasn’t just him, and he wasn’t just a late developer, and, without help, he wouldn’t be able to write properly. He was an extremely able child, with a genuine desire for knowledge and interest in learning, she said, but he would need specialist help to be able to write well. Coming to terms with that was not a fun evening or task, but I will always be grateful to her. Because that day changed his life.
A couple of weeks later, he was assessed at a private paediatric occupational health clinic, who found that the fine motor skills he needed for writing (not everything fortunately – or Lego, which is his whole life, would be off the agenda) were stuck at 2 years and 11 months. He was 5 years and 4 months. We started a daily programme of exercises for fine motor control, which are reassessed and changed every month, and here we are, five months later, with these four, perfectly formed, almost neat sentences.
I didn’t know, then, that he knew he wasn’t good at writing. That he had noticed that other children were much better than him. That other children had told him he was rubbish at writing. I didn’t know that he thought about it, and he didn’t like it, and that made him even less willing to pick up a pencil. I didn’t know that his inability to write would in year one – so different to the lovely play of reception- affect his whole school life. I knew none of this until I saw the difference in him after he began the programme. I told him it would help him write more easily and he did the exercises willingly, every single day. If I forgot, he would remind me. He grew confident. He began to draw. He made things for his soft toys, because he knew he could use pencils and scissors. He stopped being silly and defiant when I asked him to write, and just sat at the table and wrote. (Sadly this novelty did not last; he still hates homework) He proudly showed me how he had labelled pictures. He designed in pencil a ‘cancer curing machine’, inspired by an assembly about cancer for Think Pink Day. He blossomed. He stopped thinking he was rubbish and couldn’t write, and instead believed that he can.
And when his teacher sent his literacy book home yesterday, with a lovely note that showed she was nearly as pleased as I was with these sentences, they weren’t just sentences. They were the product of months of hard work for his teacher, teaching assistant, the occupational health therapist, his dad, myself – but most of all, him. And they were worth every moment of all that work, because, although he will take time to catch up with his peers in writing stamina, they have showed him that he can really write.
They were not just sentences. They showed how far he has come, and how far he can now go.