"D-osaurus" has a bee sting on his bottom. The dinosaur's enlarged posterior region is hard to miss, and that's the point. With attention drawn to his rear, students learn to start writing the letter "d" at the derri�re.
Kathy Colunga, an occupational therapist at West Texas Rehabilitation Center, created D-osaurus and a score of characters in her book titled "Planet L: Where Letters Become Legible."
Colunga struggled with dyslexia and dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that leads to inappropriately sized and spaced letters, and writing wrong or misspelled words, throughout her life, inspiring her to help children who have the same learning disabilities. Planet L serves as curriculum for summer handwriting camp at the rehabilitation center.
"I understand where kids are when they wonder, 'Where do I start?'" Colunga said.
Jimmy, the story's protagonist, is tasked with saving the world from an unruly moped-riding gang of horrible writers.
Long-necked dinosaur letters, low-reaching spy letters, and the in-between-grass letters fit on blue, green and red lines to give students a visual picture how to pen the alphabet.
"Some kids can't form a letter," Colunga said, "They'll start from the bottom, they'll start from the top. With that understanding, we took lines and color-coded them for structure."
Characters such as "y," an Einstein-looking spy letter who was lured into the library and trapped by the gang, provide children memory association for writing, she said.
Handwriting camp exercises work to aid students' writing ability and improve coordination, visual motor skills -- even upper body strength. In the sensory integration gym, students climb on nets, fly down the zip line or take a dip in the ball pit between lessons.
It seems as though the children are playing, but they are working on their special body awareness and knowing their position in space, Colunga said.
"Some of these kids crash into each other without thinking about it," she said. "That's poor body spatial awareness. When you're trying to write, the same component comes in to visually and spatially put your letters in."
Colunga dangles a Wiffle ball on a string, back and forth like a hypnotist, in one exercise. Students take whiffs poking at it, often connecting and causing the ball to fly back and hit her in the face. She smiles, testing their left and right hand coordination.
"Everybody writes a little differently," she said. "It is really crucial when kids are learning to write that they learn properly. That's where motor memory comes in and they learn bad habits."
Nethaniel Minnix, a 10-year-old Ambleside School of San Angelo student, admits he has a few handwriting problems, but enjoys how the letters are taught in Planet L camp. His mother, Marilyn Parsons, first brought him to WTRC two years ago to improve his writing. She has noticed progression in his social skills and in other areas since.
"West Texas Rehab has had a holistic effect on my son," Parsons said. "It's funny how dealing with the fear of heights leads over into other fears and helps with other issues.
"Even though he may not like writing, he feels more comfortable writing."
Nethaniel has whizzed down the gym's zip line, partially conquering his fear of heights, though it isn't the distance from the ground that bothers him.
"That's why I'm afraid of heights -- I'm afraid of falling from heights," he said.
(Reach San Angelo Standard-Times reporter Andrew Atterbury at Andrew.Atterbury@gosanangelo.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)