Celebrating the Big and Little Things

As a society, we like to compare.  We like to see what other people have, what they're doing, or what they look like, and we like to compare.  Sometimes we compare others to others, but a lot of times we compare ourselves to others.  And how do we compare?  Many times we compare our weaknesses to someone else's strengths.  It's not a fair comparison.  And what is the result?  The result tends to be an attack on ones self esteem.  We think we're not good enough, we're never going to measure up, or we have no worth.  How horrible is that!

What happens when this mentality reaches our children?  And what happens when they are not able to achieve the "goals" that we or our society think they should have already accomplished?  It leads to frustration, disappointment, and can attack self worth or self esteem.

How can we be encouraging, uplifting, and optimistic when our goals are not being reached as quickly as we'd like.  It's easy to celebrate when we get to our end goals because we have an image in our head of what that will be like, so when we get there it's easy to recognize.  It's harder to recognize the many accomplishments in between.

As I work with parents, frustrations and disappointments seem to lessen as they learn to acknowledge all of their child's accomplishments.  As they learn to recognize the in between accomplishments, it turns into a big deal, celebrations are had, and in turn it increases self worth and self esteem.

Here is an example of breaking things down and recognizing many other accomplishments that will lead us to the desired goal.  I have had students in the past when we are sitting down to make some goals, the parents express that they would like their child to be able to say their ABCs, colors, and shapes.  These are important skills, and they are skills that most pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are beginning to learn.  My concern was that their child was not yet communicating, or if they were talking, oftentimes the language was not functional.

So, although naming ABCs, colors, and shapes are an important skill for a young child, there are many steps in between that we needed to focus on.  Here are just a few (not in any particular order), and each one of these would be worthy of a celebration.
  • Increased eye contact (showing an interest in others)
  • Joint Attention (shared focus on an object with another individual)
  • Showing interest in their environment
  • A desire to share something they are excited about with someone else (i.e., a toy, something they see, something they did, etc.)
  • Imitating simple motor actions in various settings (not just when instructed to do so, but in the natural environment as well)
  • Initiating through gestures and/or words
  • Responding through gestures and/or words
  • Paying attention to someone talking
  • Following one-step directions
  • Imitating sounds
  • Matching/sorting 
  • Pointing to objects when named
Some of these things could be broken down to even smaller steps.  The point is that we have so much to celebrate, but some times it takes work to recognize those small steps that come before the big goal.  When you have a child with autism, or a child with a developmental delay, there tends to be things that you see that other parents take for granted.  A lot of those things that are generally taken for granted are the things that a parent of a child with disabilities will learn to celebrate.  There is so much to celebrate, and acknowledging all of those accomplishments is important for the child and for the parents.

Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Childhood Program for Children With Autism

photo credit: Ben McLeod via photopin cc

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