Please don’t cheer for my son

Please don’t cheer for my son.

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 that 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 doing something grown-up like. Yet, our words and actions aren’t helping my son to learn and grow.

So please don’t cheer for my son.

Think about. If the clerk at the register says “hello” as you check out, would you heartily respond “Good job!”? When your friend says, “Goodbye!” as she leaves, do you clap for her? If I say, “Thank you” when you’ve helped me out, do you cheer for me?

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

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 that 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 that 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. 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 that she’s 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 that you remember these words. Someday, you’ll encounter someone else using some form of Alternative and Augmentative Communication. It’s okay if this is all new to you. It’s probably okay to ask questions about how it works. It’s definitely okay 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 okay to cheer.

Please. Don’t cheer for my son.

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63 thoughts on “Please don’t cheer for my son

    • The advances in technology mean that more people with language delays/communication issues will be using AAC. I love it when people ask thoughtful questions about my son’s device in order to understand what he is doing. It means they will be more accepting of the next person they encounter.

  1. WOw. This is really teaching me something. I might be your worst nightmare…I cheer for everything and everyone and it’s not appropriate and probably downright offensive. And I am learning from you. About this. Thank you.

    • Actually, my son is young enough that it is still acceptable to be encouraging. But there will come the point that I and everyone else will have to stop acting as if he is a small child just because he doesn’t speak.

  2. This is a good point. I am incredibly guilty of cheering on my boys. Part of it is because both boys respond to positive reinforcement. So when they engage in a give-and-take conversation, afterwards I will tell them that they did a great job. I want to encourage them to continue to have conversation, even though it is difficult for them. I will try to watch this…and will try to not cheer on other children, either.

    • I’m not saying that we should encourage our children. One incident behind this post’s origin took place at my mom’s birthday party. We entered, Philip used his iPad to say hello and everyone clapped and cheered. No one said “hi” back. I realized that the process was disingenuous. I don’t want Philip just to learn how to say hi on the iPad. I want him to understand that it is part of every day interaction and communication with others. That only works if the others talk back.

  3. It’s so great that he has access to technology that helps him to communicate, and that you are able to help people understand what’s best for his development.

  4. I’m reading this post after a conversation with my friend about cheering. Bubby is finally waving goodbye to others, and I cheer him on gleefully when he does. She thinks I, and other Americans, are ridiculous with our encouragement. She says that German parents don’t tell their children, “Good Job!” when they do something simple and routine. However, I realize that your post is also about something deeper, too. There’s a time for encouragement, and parents/close friends recognize when it’s needed. Otherwise, cheering can send a mixed message or hurt a child’s self-esteem.

    • Maybe I’m assuming that this technology will become more prevalent since I live with it every day. I’d be interested in a year from now to see if you encounter someone using AAC.

  5. Thank you for this! This is something I am always trying to tell others, but I’m always met with backlash. You explained it perfectly when you said you want people to talk TO the child, not ABOUT the child.

  6. Excellent. This is touching, tactful, forceful and moving–all in one! You’ve written with great emotion but without being snarky. Love all the links. They are perfect additions to your entry. Well done!

  7. Freaking fantastic. And I have to tell you you went in a different direction than I expected. I have a post that I’m working on in which I’m the bystander watching a situation unfold. I’m thinking now that it needs a little more work. Maybe it’ll be ready for Yeah Write. If it strikes a nerve for you, please let me have it. I can take it.

    • One thing that I hope everyone understands is that I, too, have talked about my son instead of to him. I’ve praised him for using his iPad instead of responding to what he is saying. I make mistakes, but I’m hoping to learn from them and do better next time, for my son and others like him.

  8. But can I give you a standing ovation? You are such an incredible mom, and I have learned so much from reading your posts. You son is so lucky to have you. And I kind of want to give that bakery employee a hug.

    • Oh, I’d like to give her a hug, too. I’m sad that I haven’t seen her in a few weeks. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know her name, so I haven’t been able to check and see if her schedule changed or if she is no longer working there.

  9. Wow. What a moving post. And I think that people just don’t know what to DO with different. I’m sure they think they are being kind, when in reality it is anything but. I try my best to treat all children the same, even those with special difficulties . . . just like children. I’m glad you have that grocery store employee. Must be a lovely feeling for your son of just being treated like a person and not an anomaly.

  10. A lot of people think theyre trying to be helpful, but they just end up confusing the kid. I get tired of all the ‘High Five’ requests from random strangers. We never taught our son how to do that so they end up getting a blank stare instead. I know that’s kind of passive aggressive on our part!

    • Someone recently asked my son for a high five. I momentarily felt guilty for not teaching about it, but then realized that he has plenty of ways of showing excitement and happiness.

  11. You know, we’ve recently come to the same conclusion about our son. He does not use an iPad to speak but is on the autism spectrum and has a variety of issues. I realized recently that, in many ways, we were treating him like a baby and praising little things that he can do but just doesn’t want to. We’ve stopped cheering at those and instead interact as if the desired behaviors are expected. I’m not sure whether it’s helped me or him more but I definitely feel like it’s showing us both more respect.
    Really great post.

    • It’s so hard to stop babying our children. I imagine this happens whether they are autistic or not. I think that as parents of autistic children, though, we have to take care that we are just being typical parents and not as if we expect less of our children.

  12. What a great post. People have the best of intentions but sometimes we just need help to know what is actually the best way to communicate. Amazing timing, too, because I just read this article about not over-praising for ANY kid ( and realized I do this way too often as a parent and a teacher. Important food for thought.

  13. Wow. Thanks so much to opening up to this perspective. I suppose cheering does somehow patronize or draw attention to something we want to normalize. I will keep this post with me in the back of my mind for a long time!

  14. Encouragement must come from a place of honesty to be meaningful. Otherwise, yes, you’re right, it’s condescending and irrelevant. Your post makes that point so clearly – for all of us, regardless of whose children we’re talking to.

  15. Thank you so much for this post. People – myself included – need education on how to treat those who might be different, especially if we don’t ordinarily get the opportunity to interact with them. I am grateful for people like you, willing to teach us a better way.

    • It is hard to know the “right” way to act when you have limited interaction with people who are different in some way. I’ve learned so much from reading the blogs of autistic adults. They provide a valuable perspective on how it feels to be treated in a less than respectful way.

  16. Beautiful post, Cyn. It’s super-cool that these technologies are available to give people like your son a way to interact with the world. But your post reminds us that this is only the entry into dialogue, not a spectator sport.

  17. This was amazing…and a much needed post. You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know a friend, family member, or acquaintance with an autistic child, and a post like this helps all of us become the right kind of advocates. Thanks.

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