A tryst with Dyspraxia….
My son Antariksh was diagnosed with Spastic Cerebral Palsy at the age of 4. At the time of the diagnosis, his physical anomalies were not so prominently visible, so I thought it was an exaggeration on the doctor’s part. At that time I didn’t have the slightest clue of the profound implications those 3 words would have on our lives.
He is one of my precious twins born after ten years of wedlock. After birth, all his milestones were very late, since they were born 2 months premature. Their grandmother had attributed their early arrival to their eagerness of seeing this wondrous world.
To imbibe knowledge, I used to read books ( mostly science) to my twins even before they were born. Initially, it was just a one-way activity, I used to read to them at a stretch for about 30 min. Later to my astonishment, whenever I used to stop for a breath, I could feel a tapping from inside my womb. I reciprocated by continuing immediately, and the tapping would stop. This happened repeatedly many times. Surprisingly the tapping would always come from the same position. Perhaps it was due to this that Antariksh had taken an immense liking to reading since he was about 2 and a half years old. He had quickly learned the alphabet and even before I realized it, he was reading 5,6,8, and even 10 letter words by the age of 3 and a half. But he couldn’t talk till then. He started talking only after he had completed his 3rd birthday. Once he would start talking on a subject, he was unrelenting. People found his talks impressive and stimulating. Encyclopedias were his best friends. I still remember him reading a picture encyclopedia at 2:30 am when he was just 3 years old. Around this time his gait, walking, and running were already showing signs of oddity and malformation. So our appointments to visit pediatricians, neurologists and therapists began in full earnest. He just loved books; in fact, he would just devour them. A day never went by when I didn’t buy new books for him. Almost 2 years into kindergarten, he would come back from school with his notebooks filled with alphabets and I thought everything was just fine; after all, he was an avid reader. But his natural ability for reading never helped him to write. I was mistaken. One day I realized that he just couldn’t write anything, he couldn’t write any alphabet, in fact, he could only scribble in a haphazard way. His fingers would not even move on their own to make any legible impression on paper. His teacher told me that she would hold his hand to make him write but completely failed to notice that he just could not write absolutely anything on his own. All children in his class including his twin brother could write. It came as a shock to me..… a boy who was a precocious reader, who spoke so wonderfully, could not write. I started doing everything I could think of. I started talking to neurologists and therapists. Experts had varied analyses of his inability to write. Neurodevelopmental delay, lack of fine motor skills, dysgraphia, dyspraxia to name a few. I was totally perplexed. I would hold his hand and make him write 10 times but after that, he could not even draw a straight line or a circle, or even a simple curve on his own. Sleepless nights crept into my life but I did not lose hope. I just knew that if he could read so proficiently at such a young age, he can surely write. But how? One day during a regular visit to the occupational therapist a little miracle happened. By that time he was already 5 and I had taught my twins geometrical shapes and patterns and also complex shapes like hexagon, pentagon, etc, they could recognize that a honeycomb has a hexagonal shape. Best of all they could associate these shapes with everyday objects. Little did I know that later it would be this knowledge that would teach Antariksh to write.
The therapist was a really nice lady and that day she was making him guess the alphabet which she would form with her hand on his back as a part of a sensory integration session. Antariksh was replying and perfectly identifying all the alphabets and then… suddenly I told his therapist that Antariksh could not write at all but could very well recognize geometrical shapes and patterns, she immediately answered, “Then perhaps you could give him instructions for writing’ … and that’s all she said. That day we came back home and everything changed. From the next day till about 4 months, I spent every day teaching him an alphabet with specific instructions.
For A- two slanting lines joined by a small straight line.
For B- one straight standing line( a sleeping line was obviously different) and two semi-circles.
For D- one straight ( opposite of slant, very meaningful for him) standing line and one big semi-circle.
For F- one straight standing line and 2 small ( not big, then it wouldn’t be F) sleeping lines.
For J – I searched everywhere for a j shaped candy to create an impression in his mind. ( never found one)a straight line curved at the end.
For Z –two straight lines, one up and one down and another joining them at the end and at the start.
I would show him once, repeat the instructions and he would do it all by himself. Only that the exact instruction had to be repeated step by step continuously, otherwise he would just stop, the instructions were most important to his mind, just like a sequential algorithm.
The idea was working …. Miraculously … by this time he was already in grade one and could not write absolutely anything at all. But now his brain could easily comprehend geometric shapes and was signaling his fingers to reproduce those shapes on paper in a specific manner, which then became alphabets.
Still, it was not easy because he would forget what A meant the next day so I would teach him all over again. Initially, it took me 4 days to teach him one capital letter, later he could pick up faster in about 2 days, by the time we reached P and Q.
About M I distinctly remember it took a very long time because he would just draw a straight line from top to bottom and found it impossible to go back to the top again and draw a slanting line. His hand would just freeze. Then I came up with an idea and started telling him that a rocket goes up always up( since he was a baby he would always respond well to logical instructions for example, whenever we were out in the open, and I would tell him ‘blue sky ‘ , he would immediately look up to the sky, but if I said ‘ blue sky ‘ when we were inside a room, he never looked up even once. I tried this little trick with him multiple times and each time he won. I found that very interesting), so his straight line would have to go always bottom-up, and it worked!. The challenge was teaching him the small letters, all of which had curves so it went like this
For a- a small circle with a tail ( a kitty’s tail)
For b- a straight line and circle at the bottom ( very important instruction for him to remember b)… and so on but x , y, q , s took a very very long time. In fact he couldn’t write Q and q for almost a year. In our alphabet learning process Q and q turned out to be most challenging.
Even then intermittently he would completely forget how to write an alphabet.As his neurological issues were not yet fully diagnosed, I used to be very stressed. Would all the hard work go in vain?All 26 small letter alphabets took almost 2 years to finish and there were numerous times in the following years when he would write all in capital, but we were very happy as long as he could write. His struggle ( and along with him mine)with writing disability continued for many years , even after he could actually write. His mind could never really comprehend the need and meaning of spaces between words, writing on a line , need of paragraphs, indentations etc.
Now Antariksh is 13 years old and in grade eight. His writing speed is much more than that of his brother. Geometry has brought in new challenges. Sometimes for him being persistent and patient becomes extremely difficult with ADHD. His fine motor skills are poor, he despises craftwork due to that. But he loves cooking. He can color but not draw, even in grade 8, his drawing is of kindergarten level. He loves creating 3D models in Blender, and making websites using Dreamweaver, his computer typing speed is more than average. He is a highly enthusiastic tabla (percussion instrument) player.
Antariksh is having a rare blood group of hh(occurrence about 4 per million) and High functioning Autism which makes his life all the more challenging and different. He and I both surely have miles to go before we sleep, yet today when I look back I sometimes feel that he could write just like any other child but deep down in my heart I know and life knows the path that we had taken….. . Perhaps we overcame dyspraxia, perhaps dyslexia ….perhaps more than that….we shall never know.
Every day since then we have been searching for newer and greener pastures where he can breathe freely, just like any other child.
Prodipta Soni: Academic advisor and Lecturer.
Prodipta Soni is a trustee and academic advisor at Abhinav Vidyalay and junior college in Dombivli, India. She is also a lecturer of computer science for grade 12. She has a teaching experience of over 15 years.
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