The Handwriting on the Wall…

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I walked into the playroom and realized James found the ONE marker that wasn’t tucked away in the closet with the other messy villains like glitter and Play-Doh that are only allowed supervised play dates.

He had written his name in large purple letters underneath his big sister’s artwork.

When he realized I was standing there, he proudly announced, “Tahdah!” with his charming little smile.

While my initial reaction was frustration and to grab my magic eraser, it was quickly replaced with the reminder that not very long ago I prayed for him to be able to independently write his name.

James was diagnosed with autism just before his third birthday.

At that time we had been in speech and occupational therapy for almost a year and despite their efforts, he had very little interest in learning his letters much less writing them or writing anything, really.

I would see other children pointing out letters on billboard signs or singing their ABCs and my heart would ache for James to do those things, too.

Just getting him to sit down and look at a book was difficult. He was always on the move, jumping on his mini-trampoline or running through the house.

I remember sitting on the floor one hot, summer afternoon crying after many, many failed attempts to persuade him to sit with me and look through the pages of “My First Words.”

So I quit. That day I recognized what I was doing wasn’t working and, in fact, was only causing more pain for both of us.

I was sad because he refused to cuddle up with me and a book like his older sister had done hundreds of times throughout her toddler years. And he was upset because I forcing him to do something that he had zero interest in when all he wanted to do was RUN!

So I gave up. And I began talking to James’ therapists and his teachers about how I could really help him – not by demanding him to do things my way, but by finding more ways that allowed him to learn his way.

And eventually things began to change.

We got creative and took books outside to the big trampoline and created obstacle courses throughout the house using letters and pictures.

It was also about this time that we started Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy and we saw even more improvement.

Five years later James is reading and writing. He still rarely initiates sitting and reading a book with me but he shows me each and every day that he’s learning – even if it’s by writing his name on the playroom wall.

There’s an old saying, “the handwriting on the wall” that people use to suggest that someone or something is going to fail.

The phrase actually comes from a Biblical story in which Daniel interprets a mysterious message inscribed on the palace wall telling King Belshazzar that he will be overthrown.

I felt like a failure for a really, really long time.

I would look at the successes of James’ peers and wonder why that couldn’t be us. I would stay awake at night worrying if he would ever read or write – or even speak. And I often questioned whether I was the right mom for him.

I felt like I was ignoring the handwriting on the wall telling me that I was failing James and that he would never reach his potential. 

But all that time, I was missing James’ repeated requests for a little extra space to do things his way. 

We’ve made some huge strides over the last several years and we still have a big journey ahead of us, but for now, I will appreciate his precious handwriting on my playroom wall as a reminder that he still has a lot more to teach me. 

Written by, Amanda Ledbetter

Amanda Ledbetter lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina with her husband, Jay, and two children, Ellie and James. James was diagnosed with autism at age two and thriving with the help and support of his wonderful therapists and teachers.

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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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