Setting the Bar

September 24, 2013
Chelsea Budde

I'm not an athlete.  My strength never did come from my muscles.  But I certainly do admire the way athletes challenge themselves.  It seems to me that the good ones don't so much compare themselves to other athletes, but to their own accomplishments.  Personal bests, training regimens, and individualized goals mix and mingle with creative coaches and hard work to create results.  I'm sure athletes have a brass ring they're reaching for -- an ultimate dream.  Perhaps they set their own bar (whether literally for their sport or figuratively).

I think about that bar when it comes to pole vaulting.  Where do you set it?  I'm guessing pretty low to begin, and then as your skill set improves, higher and higher.  In considering the way we as parents set bars, do we do the same thing?  Do we set the bar at a reasonable level first, then as our children grow in skill, do we move the bar, perhaps with their input, so they have a new, higher aim?

For some reason, likely sheer hope and optimism, it seems most parents set that bar quite high.  We have a picture when our children are placed in our arms of what their lives will be like.  Flashes of brilliance and talent colored by milestones and achievements.  Not a whole lot of consideration of how the skill set will be developed to get there -- the tools, supports, and resources that will be needed along the way.

Based on my own personal and professional experience, when parents of children with autism receive a diagnosis, oftentimes that bar gets knocked way down -- maybe even off the rails altogether.  And they start looking to others (doctors, educators, social workers, etc.) for where and how to set the "new" bar.  What will my child's life look like after high school?  Will he get a job?  Will he get married?  Will she be able to live independently?  Suddenly all the flashes of color become washed out to gray uncertainty; and I'm not sure why we even had those flashy colors to begin with.

None of us knows how our child's life will unravel -- whether they're typically-developing or have autism spectrum disorder.  We can look at statistics and try to come up with a framework for a bar.  But human beings are surprising, somewhat unpredictable creatures -- adept at creating and using tools.

So wrap your head around this: don't "set" the bar.  Rest it.  With those high hopes and optimism.  And methodically seek out those tools, supports, and resources -- the coaches, therapists, educators, friends, interventions, etc. -- to develop the skill set needed to get over the bar.  Then move it up, fully expecting you can raise it higher.

My son with autism is now 14.  Based on his input, we've now rested his bar at high school, an apprentice program, graduation, and a three-year college program, fully expecting him to be gainfully employed thereafter.  With the framework of his fledgling Postsecondary Transition Plan, we're working together as a team to help him smash personal bests.

So keep the cushy mat under them to protect them when they fall.  And make sure the training and the equipment they have are adequate for the attempt.  Keep celebrating achievements and learning from mistakes.  All in brilliant color.  Your student is worthy of nothing less.

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