All it was, was a sticker. A gold star not a whole lot bigger than a thumb tack. Yet it meant the world to a boy and to me, his mom.
Let me back up a bit. Last year my son came home with lots of stickers. Pretty much daily he'd descend the stairs of the bus sporting a sticker of some kind smack dab in the middle his forehead (his fave place to display a sticker). Typically, he hadn't done a lot to merit that sticker, except generally follow the rules the way most kids are expected to. Almost every day he came home bearing a sticker, so they had entirely lost any significance.
This gold star, however, was different. For a start, it came from a new teacher, at a new school.
When I picked him up that afternoon, the librarian rushed over to talk to his teacher and, oblivious to my presence, commended my newly minted 7 year old. Earlier that day a classmate had taken ill and was in pain. So the story goes, my son was a star, showing true concern and empathy toward his friend. Big deal, you may say.
Except, in this case, it was. My son has Asperger's Syndrome, or high functioning autism as it's generally called these days. Though extremely caring, he doesn't show empathy in the traditional sense. And it's this point that has given Aspies bad press. They are seen as cold, unfeeling when in fact, the reverse may be true. They may feel too much, and express that feeling differently.
But I digress. That star came at a time when my son had been having frequent struggles at school. There is so much going on for him to process. All the noise and chaotic excitement. All the concentration and listening. All the social interaction. There is so much required of him. Even though he's never officially been diagnosed, I suspect he also has ADHD since he's frequently impulsive and has trouble keeping his hands to himself. Sometimes the littlest thing can make him snap, like the lead breaking in his pencil.
Simply getting through the day and keeping his shit together is extremely hard for him. I can see the exhaustion on his face daily.
I know he's not the only one. Kids like him tend to get a lot of attention in the classroom. And as a result, so do their parents. When the school's number flashes on our phones, we go cold. We hold our breath. What now? or Not again, we think. We dread being pulled aside by teachers or reading notes left in student agendas. Billy did this today, Amy did that...
In passing one day I mentioned about my son having a good day, and his new teacher looked puzzled. There had been an incident, however she hadn't mentioned it because they'd dealt with it in class, her and my son. She didn't want to harp on about his challenges because, I suspect, as a mom herself she knew how that kind of reporting can wear you down.
Instead, this gold star. Experts say you shouldn't praise children. I'm no psychologist, but you know what? I think they're wrong. Kids absolutely need to be praised. They deserve to be complimented and celebrated - for the right reasons. I don't go on to my son about how smart he is, even though he's academically gifted. Still, when he got that sticker, let me tell you I heaped on the praise, hoping it would bring about more of the same.
And for one whole day I allowed myself to bask in the glow of this small thing my son had done right, instead of steeling myself against all the things he'd hadn't.
Image credit: Kim Siever