A couple of weeks ago Collier tested and earned his first rank in karate – his yellow belt. He was beaming with pride at having earned this achievement, and we were proud of him. He loves to please. In fact, when he was testing, we were in the room, and we thought he would lose points for looking at us every time he performed a move instead of paying attention to his instructor.
At last week’s belt ceremony, when we got there, Collier was sent to a back room – away from us, which always makes us kind of nervous. As it turned out, all the students were in an adjacent room with a temporary, movable wall between them and the parents. After the opening remarks, each group of students who earned their next belt were called out in front of the parents, and their names were called.
“When I call each student’s name, I want you to clap like your hands are on fire,” said owner Danny Williams, “these kids worked hard and deserve it.”
Collier came out with his group, and he was radiant, and as with other situations, he kept his eyes on us at all times. His eyes were wide, with his eyebrows raised in anticipation of his name being called. When it was, he stepped forward, and we obeyed Mr. Williams’ command. Our hands lit up.
Though Mr. Williams need not tell us…….. there are many areas in Collier’s life where he struggles, so any opportunity we have to praise him when he does achieve, we take. I was extremely proud of him, and I wanted to show it. It’s a great accomplishment for anybody, let alone someone on the spectrum.
The areas of life that autism can affect are endless. For Collier, one of his struggles is with processing oral directions, and the testing for his yellow belt was fast. Really fast. Thankfully, he passed, as did all the students in his testing group. Not all of them always do, we were told. We know that the day is coming when he won’t pass one of the tests, particularly if the speed gets faster. But for the time being, he has earned a yellow belt in karate.
Earning his yellow belt is just one in many fights with the bully where Collier won. You see, autism is a bully. It robs Collier and others of lots of achievements that other kids so easily earn. It makes me sick. But at the same time, he can and does earn and achieve lots of things, from merit badges in Boy Scouts to trophies in baseball to good grades – just in his own time.
But am I always celebrating his victories? Am I always cheering loud enough for him? Am I giving him the affirmation that he needs? Are my hands on fire?
In the days following the belt ceremony, Mr. Williams’ words kept swimming in my mind. Too many times Collier gets frustrated because he can’t do something, and we push him to do as many things as his typical peers do, but do we recognize his achievements enough?
In the midst of helping him succeed in school, Boy Scouts, karate, ABA therapy, speech therapy, piano, and other activities he participates in, am I doing enough in the cheering department? Sometimes I worry in all the busyness that we get wrapped up in that I’ll forget to be thankful of what we have and what he’s accomplished.
Every rank in Scouts that he earns, and every merit badge he earns, I want to be there clapping. Every hit he makes in baseball, I want to be there cheering. Every bit of progress he makes in ABA therapy, I want to celebrate. Every new step he takes in speech therapy, and every time he goes bravely to the chiropractor table, I want to scream about. And yes, every new belt he earns in karate, I want to clap like my hands are on fire.
I don’t ever want them to go out.