Going in Circles

It has only been in the past six months that Daniel, 4 years 8 months, has used coloring crayons for coloring and drawing. As far as he was concerned, snapping them half, eating them, stripping off the paper wrapper, and using them as missiles to emphasize his rage were their primary uses.

When he about 2 1/2 years old, I became determined that he needed to develop the ability to hold a crayon. Of course, this was an intuitive process because I’d not yet had any fears or concerns validated by medical “professionals” nor had I found enough confirming information on the internet, not yet having a connection between “sensory” and “Autism”.

Seating him at the kitchen table, I’d hold his little right hand firmly in mine, demonstrating coloring on plain white paper. Screams! Ear-piercing shrieks! Lest the neighbors two acres away think I was abusing him, I had to make sure the windows and doors were tightly closed.

Guilt comes in many forms. Because I have a natural antithetical personality, lacking the baby-sweet-talk approach of my mother-in-law who passively approaches all issues with children in a “sweetie, do you want to color with me….”, and giving up at first refusal, I was instead black-and-white determined he COULD hold a crayon. I’d long ago given up on coloring pages, the black outlines of figures seemingly invisible, unable to contain his sporadic rigid movements. Switching to plain white printer paper, we worked several times a day, 1-minutes sessions but with seemingly no progress. Waves of guilt coarsed through my veins. I longed to be a different type of mother – longing for a personality change to that of my sweet, cooing, gentle-natured mother-in-law’s style. Why must I be so rigid, I’d lament, waging war against my nature, ad nauseum.

Meeting with Occupational and Speech Threapists in the spring of 2004, I was relieved when they validated my approach, assuring me I’d not been abusive or cold-hearted. They shared their wisdom and experience with me, words like balm gently applied to my pained and grieved heart….... “we will use methods that could be too easily misinterpreted as abusive. We hold their hands, making them color. We hold their hands, making them clap. We firmly hold them in their chairs if we need time-outs. We help them to keep wiggly hands still. We give them real hands-on demonstrations, because left to their own devices, they will only choose to remain in self-stimming mode and there will be no learning, no progress. We must break through that for the necessary small motor skills to be learned – it is then we will see progress”. What a breakthrough for both Daniel and me!

With their instruction, similar to what I had been doing, he began coloring – LEFT HANDED! Huge repetitive circles filling plain white paper from one margin to another. Yet another epiphany – I’d been holding his right hand!! He’d given me no evidence of being left-handed. I’d assumed he was going to be right-handed, never once considering there are left-handed people! I squelched the guilt, focusing instead on the hope of forward momentum.

Last night, Daniel volunteered to “draw you a pretty picture of a whale, Mommy”. It was gorgeous. Within its wild purple circles were several straight lines. A miracle.

Not only that, but he offered to write his own name. The effort it took to create the letters was humbling. With intense concentration, he willed his hand to follow what he knew to be proper letter formation. His little arms shook with the effort – his right firmly holding the paper as if it would fly away of its own accord, and his left, cluthing the crayon.

Progress is a sweet thing to be cherished.


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