I work with autistic students in the public school system. When I first started, I spent most of my day cheering one student through his struggles each day. If he didn’t understand something, I would tell him he could learn it. If he got behind with his classwork, I would take him out of the room and give him a calm place to finish. If he started getting down on himself, I would remind him of all his wonderful qualities. By the end of the day, I would be worn out, but he felt pretty good.
A few years ago after spending most of the year by his side letting him be himself and helping him see that mistakes aren’t fatal, but part of learning, he said something to me that I’ll never forget.
He would often repeat lines from programs he’d been watching on TV. Certain phrases would get stuck in his head and come out whenever there was a lull in the teaching. Sometimes he would recite entire scenes from a show, and I usually tried to redirect him and get him back on task.
Charlie Brown was his favorite show to quote back then, and one day he went through his normal set of lines and then stopped, looked at me, and said, “You’re Linus.” After smiling and reminding him that my name is Mrs. Dahl a few times, I finally asked him why he kept calling me Linus. He beamed and pointed to himself, and said, “I’m Charlie Brown.”
This was new for him, so I asked him to explain. And then he hit me with it. He said, “Linus always encourages Charlie Brown and makes him feel better. I’m Charlie Brown, and you’re my Linus.”
It’s unusual for him to function in such an abstract place, but I guess he found a way to tell me thank you for all of those times I cheered him on. I hadn’t even realized he’d noticed.
Who’s the last person you’ve encouraged? We all need encouragement, and that needs to come from someone else. And I’m not talking about telling someone good job when they get an “A” or “get the part.” Encouragement places value on the person, not the results of their performance.
True encouragement believes that the person wants to do the right thing and make improvements. I think we forget this a lot with kids. When they don’t listen and ignore our instruction, we tend to not think the best of them and start to believe they can’t do better. Real encouragement focuses on strengths and assets instead of failures and rebellion.
Here’s a pretty good encouragement article for teachers, but I think it’s especially helpful for parents too.
According to the article, I’ve made A LOT of mistakes in the encouragement department–one of the worst being the “Oh-let-me-do-that-for-you” put down.
I know someone who’s a wonderful encourager. She is earnest and kind-hearted, and seems to have an innate ability to not hand out fake compliments. She’s my Linus. Have you been anyone’s Linus lately?