Why I’m Asking You Not to Cheer for My Son With Autism

Please don’t cheer for my son, Philip.

I am reminding myself as much as I am asking this of you. I’m just as guilty as you are. I have to stop myself from breaking into a happy dance. While I’m touched you share my enthusiasm for his progress, I must kindly request that you stop demonstrating it.

Please don’t cheer for my son.

I think we can both be forgiven. It’s hard to resist the impulse to say, “Oh, how adorable!” when we see a child do something like a grown-up. Yet, our words and actions aren’t helping my son to learn and grow.

So please don’t cheer for my son.

Think about it. If a clerk at the register says “hello” as you check out, would you say “good job” in response? When your friend says “goodbye” as she leaves, do you clap for her? If I say “thank you” after you’ve helped me out, do you cheer for me?

No? Then please don’t cheer for my son.

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Together, let’s stop treating him like a trained monkey to be rewarded with praise. Just because he touches an iPad to speak doesn’t mean we should treat him as any less than an intelligent human being. Together, let’s agree we need to model language by responding to the content of his communication.

Please don’t cheer for my son.

I also have some answers for you regarding his iPad. No, it isn’t amazing what kids have to play with today. No, it’s not a shame that kids today are spoiled with all these newfangled gadgets. No, I’m not worried my son may never learn to speak.

What do you think he was just doing?

There is an employee in the bakery of our local grocery store who I seek out when we shop there. She waits for Philip to say hello and then responds in kind. She’s patient while he finds the sequence to ask her for a doughnut. She says “you’re welcome” after he thanks her. She talks to him, not about him. Sometimes, because we’re usually there near closing time, she laughs and reminds him not to get fingerprints (or nose prints) on the display case she just cleaned. Using his iPad, Philip says “goodbye.” She smiles, waves and says “bye-bye” back.

She doesn’t cheer for my son.

If you never meet my son, I still ask you to remember these words. Someday, you’ll encounter someone else using some form of alternative and augmentative communication (ACC). It’s OK if this is all new to you. It’s probably OK to ask questions about how it works. It’s definitely OK to talk to that person, listen to what they have to say and respond appropriately.

But unless that person just scored the winning run or offered you a million dollars or announced a cure for cancer, it’s not OK to cheer.

Please. Don’t cheer for my son.

Follow this journey on That Cynking Feeling.

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