Cheerleading for Parents
Dan Coulter, May 5, 2006
For more articles like this
I've had a taste of acclaim a
number of times in my life.
The first time that stands out was riding on the bus to an
"away" basketball game in junior high school. The cheerleaders
were doing that "Bill, Bill, he's our man, if he can't do it,
David can..." thing where they go through the names of everyone
on the team. Even though I was on the second string and the girl
leading the cheer had to refer to the program at each name to
make sure she didn't miss anyone, it was very heady stuff to
hear, "Stan, Stan, he's our man, if he can't do it, Dan can!
Dan, Dan, He's our man." Of course, it was only five seconds of
fame, followed by the unsettling assurance that if I couldn't do
it, the next guy down the roster could. Still, for those few
seconds, I got to hear my name chanted by a busload of
cheerleaders and imagine I was the subject of hero worship.
Everyone could use that kind of positive reinforcement once in a
while. Trouble is, we rarely get it when we most deserve it.
This week, I was reading an autism-related magazine and was
really drawn into an article about parents who were devoting
tremendous amounts of time and effort to helping their kids who
are on the spectrum. I admired these parents. They really
deserved to be written up, especially in a magazine that's read
by people who can appreciate their situation.
It made me think about all the other parents of kids on the
spectrum who are trying their best, but often get met with
criticism or misunderstanding.
Raising a child who's on the autism spectrum is tough. To be
fair, it's hard for anyone who hasn't been involved to
understand just how tough it is. When my son, Drew, was in grade
school, he hadn't yet been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. We
were working under the diagnoses of "communication
handicapped" and "ADHD." I remember talking with a colleague at
my office, describing his difficult
behaviors. Her reaction was, "But isn't that just normal boy
stuff?" No echoes of cheerleaders chanting my name in that
Because most people don't understand what's involved, we parents
of kids on the spectrum have a smaller universe of people who
can appreciate what we do. I was talking with Lori Shery,
president of the ASPEN support group, the other day about the
things that special needs support groups have to offer. One of
the things she mentioned was sharing our kids' accomplishments
at meetings, "Other parents might say, 'Well, that's no big
deal,' but it is, it's a very big deal to us."
People who don't appreciate what's involved can't give us the
positive reinforcement that can help us through the tough times.
The more alone you are, the easier it is to doubt yourself or
wonder if you're making the right decisions.
That's why I think it's important to be a part of a community of
people who understand. While we're working to educate the world
about our kids, it really helps to be in contact with people who
already have a clue.
Support groups can be great. We're members of the ASPEN
organization, the MAAP organization and the local chapter of the
Autism Society of America, among others. ASPEN and MAAP focus on
higher-functioning conditions on the autism spectrum, such as
Asperger Syndrome, while the ASA addresses the
Because we've been involved with ASPEN the longest, I'll say a
few words about how it's helped us. We joined a local ASPEN
chapter while we lived in New Jersey and kept our membership
when we moved to North Carolina. In New Jersey, my wife, Julie,
and I took turns going to the meetings so one of us could stay
home with our kids. I remember how reassuring the ASPEN meetings
were; especially right after Drew was diagnosed. Professionals
came to the meetings to speak and answer questions. Later,
parents could trade info and compare notes. Every time we
realized we were doing something right, it helped lower our
I also subscribe to a number of online autism-related forums
where people share information, concerns and support. Online
forums are great because you can access them from wherever you
So here's my pitch.
Let's all make it a point to compliment another parent every
chance we get on what he or she is doing. I don't mean just when
you see them do something outstanding. Look for something
they're doing that you agree with or admire and let them know.
Maybe you'll tell a support group leader you really appreciate
her volunteering to organize and run meetings. Maybe you'll tell
another parent who shared a difficulty that you appreciate how
he dealt with the situation. Maybe you'll hug your spouse and
say how much you appreciate his or her patience. But look for
opportunities to give that jolt of encouragement and approval.
It costs us nothing, but it can mean the world. And praising
others may just spark someone to tell you what a great job
you're doing when you really need to hear it.
If the moment's really special, you may just capture that junior
high school feeling of having a whole squad of cheerleaders
chanting your name.
I bet you deserve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the INTRICATE
MINDS series of videos that help students understand and accept
classmates who have Asperger Syndrome and similar conditions.
You can read more articles on his website at:
Dan hosts an Internet radio show, "Life In The Asperger
Lane," at 12 P.M., Eastern (US) Time, on the second Saturday of
each month on Autism One Radio at
Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to