It All Matters

August 6, 2012
Chelsea Budde

As educators and administrators start to get in the new school year zone, they'll go over the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of the students in their classes to get an understanding of some of the more specialized needs.  (Or at least they should be doing that!)  A good IEP is one that focuses on achievements and strengths while making challenging goals with supportive services to keep the student moving forward.  It would be sad and certainly not helpful if the narratives were filled with little more than disparaging notes and records of failures.  The IEP should give the accepting teacher a good base of ideas to keep the student learning and growing.

Assuming teachers are getting such positive documents, they should start in September with every intention of celebrating achievements.  If we subscribe to the belief that success begets success, and we know that there is some attrition of academic skills over the summer, then we have to be ready to set learners up for success immediately in that first week of school.  What accomplishments did they have over the summer?  What wonderful skills are they demonstrating those first days?

As the parent of two children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), I've learned that what seem like little things matter big time.  When my mommy friends were celebrating their typically-developing children's milestones, I began scratching my head while I observed my toddler with a differently-wired brain.  Once we had a diagnosis, I understood that we were on a different trajectory, but it would still sting to hear some of those early reports of my child's same-aged peers self-dressing or -feeding.  I was still looking in my child for the same achievements my friends were noticing in theirs.

What I wasn't trained to notice at the time was how my son was recognizing patterns and generalizing those to other aspects of his life.  For example, when walked to the refrigerator and took the number 9 magnet, turned it on its head, and said "six".  Or when he jumped out from behind the kitchen wall and said, "Boo!" to me, just like his favorite character Sulley from Monsters, Inc.

photo by Jan H. Andersen

But last month, when his 13-year-old self began singing in the shower, I knew what an achievement that was.  It meant that ...

  • he was imitating.  His younger sister is quite a nightingale, and almost always exercises her pipes while showering.
  • he enjoys music.  His Early Childhood and music teachers during his early years at school were far more likely to find him under the desk with his hands over this ears than participating in class.
  • he can speak.  Many people with autism struggle greatly to communicate with spoken language.

I share this because ...

  • as parents, we need to celebrate achievements like this.  It all matters.
  • as educators, we need to continually point out students' successes to themselves, their parents, and their peers.
  • as peers, we need to recognize that while our friends with autism might not be doing the same stuff we are, they're doing amazing things and usually have to work WAY harder at achieving those things than we do.

What victories are you and your student celebrating?

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