'When your child has additional needs, 'participation awards' are worth celebrating.'

It’s report card season again. Soon my timeline will be full of my friends sharing photos of happy children holding cards that say “A” and posts about how proud they are of their clever children.

And I’ll be happy for them, I really will. I’ll join in their celebrations with them, write encouraging things, but I won’t be sharing my child’s grades online.

My beautiful, smart, happy, kind girl has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s never received an “A” in her life. She works so hard, visibly harder than some of the children in her class to earn her C’s.

And we’re so, so proud of those C’s.

On our Parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess, host Holly Wainwright sits down with mum of two, Julie Jones, to chat about her son Braden’s life with Cerebral Palsy. Post continues below.

We’re proud of every new things she learns, the new skills she masters even if it’s years behind her peers and we are always so proud of how hard she tries. Autism teaches you to rejoice in the little things. We don’t celebrate report cards, team sports wins and school leadership roles.

We celebrate her remembering to hand in her homework for the first time this year.

The trouble is that they do it on a Friday morning when the classroom is being set up for next week. It’s full of new objects, new colours. There’s a weekly spelling test in five minutes to worry about. There is a new lesson on the board, you are chatting about weekend plans with your friends and there is even an amazing new smell because someone has changed their deodorant.

So many senses all being stimulated at once and apparently a child is supposed to be able to concentrate enough through this excitement to get a homework folder out of their bag? Lol! Not likely. There’s no report card category for “overcoming sensory overload and following instructions even though concentrating takes every bit of your strength”.

We celebrate participation. We celebrate this so, so much.

There is always someone complaining about “participation awards” because apparently we’ve allowed children to get soft, apparently we teach them not to try.

No, you’ve missed the point. My child is never going to win first place. But her being confident enough to compete, to try something new is enough to bring me to tears. Tears of real pride. There’s no report card category for “trying something new and stepping out of your comfort zone”.

We celebrate kindness.

At her school’s cupcake fundraiser I sent her in with jelly, because I’m both lazy and unskilled in the kitchen. Luckily kids love jelly and her stall sold out first.

The jelly was a hit. Image: Supplied.

Her best friend sitting next to her had a tray of lamingtons from the supermarket, because both of his parents work full-time and don’t actually have hours to bake on a Thursday night.

He started crying because nobody had bought a single one. My beautiful girl spent her money on one, then started telling other kids that they were delicious and managed to drum up enough interest to sell them all. There’s no report card category for “acts of kindness performed in the playground”.

We celebrate effort.

How hard you work for those C’s. How much time it takes to learn new spelling words, but you still do it every single week.

How much emotional strength it takes to stand in front of the class and do an oral presentation, when your head is full of self-doubt and you battle through it. There’s no report card category for “doing something that petrifies you”.

We celebrate happiness.

After years of crying in the morning we really, really celebrate happiness. A willingness to attend school.

This is the most underrated achievement listed here. Unless you know how heartbreaking it is to send a child to school who hates it, you will never understand the relief of them not only attending happily, but starting to look forward to it.

I picked her up on Wednesday afternoon and she jumped in the car, turned to me and said “Mum, I had the BEST day today”.

Later that night, when I was all alone, I cried. And cried. I’m so happy for her now, and I feel so guilty for all of the times she wasn’t happy at school. There’s no report card category for “today I smiled instead of crying”.

But there bloody well should be. All of these should be report card categories. If your child had a win this year, regardless of how small, how unrecognised, please know that there is a whole community of parents who understand how proud you are. Celebrate your child for being amazing in their own way.

This post originally appeared on The Good-Enough Parent and has been republished with full permission. 

Feature image: Getty.

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