Nothing like report card day. The double edged sword of your kid doing great academically coupled with 18.6 instances of noncompliance per day, 1.6 instances of aggression per day, 8.6 instances of vocal outbursts per day and .6 instances of violent language per day.

-A message I sent to a few of my autism mom friends

Friday was report card day.  Because I’m so with it these days, I had no idea until a friend posted something about it on Facebook.  It’s always a little source of anxiety for me because on the same day that we get the kids’ academic grades, we also get a progress report on Howie’s IEP goals.  We meet with his team monthly so there are usually no surprises, but I still get a little nervous waiting for the actual data.

And there it was again.  In black and white.

Howie’s academic report card was stellar.  Our school doesn’t give out the usual letter grades, but measures each kid’s progress against the content area set by the state.  So a kid is either beginning to understand the concepts, progressing towards the standard, meeting the standard or exceeding the standard.

In almost all areas, he’s meeting or exceeding the state standards for each content area. There were just a few progressing towards the standard areas in his ability to write using spaces and writing using conventional and inventive spelling.

Howie’s progress towards his IEP goals paints a different picture.  Here’s a kid showing 18.6 instances of noncompliance per day, 1.6 instances of aggression per day, 8.6 vocal outbursts per day, and 0.6 instances of violent language per day (data taken over a one week period).  During group instruction, he attended to the lesson without interfering behavior in 1 out of 5 opportunities.  He was able to identify a problem situation 100% of the time independently, but brainstorm solutions only 25% of the time independently.

Reading all this, my heart aches for my kid.  He can do the work.  He knows his stuff.  He just can’t sit there in the classroom and do it. And it means he’s working so incredibly hard to do the work while filtering out all the distractions.

Every IEP meeting, when the team asks us what our goal is for the coming year, Tim and I always say we want his teachers to see Howie for the incredibly smart, engaging, amazing kid that he is.  We want to help him learn how to control his challenging behaviors so he can be in the classroom and show off all that he can do.

We get so focused on those behaviors as being the measurement of his daily success in school.  I go right to his log sheet as soon as he gets home to see what kind of day he had.  We praise the days he “earned” and we talk about the challenges he had during the day.

I go through his work  and will pull out his worksheets to tell him that he did a good job.   And he’s proud – SO proud – on those days.

But still, his major measurement of success is still his behavior sheets.

Not anymore.  On Friday, I made a change.


I sat Howie down when he got home from school Friday and for the first time we went through his report card together.  I explained to him what the letters meant and what it showed that he was learning.  I said “here, look it says you know all your uppercase and lowercase letters and can write them all!” and he’d respond with “yes, I can!”  And I said “right here it says you can skip count by fives and tens to 100”, and he said “I sure can!” and counted right there for me.

I hugged him and told him I was really proud of what a great job he was doing in school with his work.  He jumped up and down and went running off happily.

Later, at dinner, Tim told him that since he had such a good report card, he could stay up a little later and watch a special show with him and Gerry.  It’s usually Tim and Gerry’s special time together, but they were watching a show on aircraft carriers (thank you Netflix) and they thought Howie might like to join them.

“Oh yes!” came the answer.


I really had no idea if any of this had really connected with Howie.

Until about an hour after dinner.

Howie asked if my mom could send him the special yogurt covered pretzels he likes.  There’s a store near her house in Vermont that sells them without corn starch or corn syrup, so he knows he can eat them.  I told her to give her a call and ask.

Usually, he tells me to do it.  Talking on the phone is very tricky for him.  Talking in person is hard, but the lack of connection over the phone lines makes any back and forth almost impossible for Howie.  Usually it’s pretty one sided.

Not this time.  For ten minutes, he had an actual conversation with my mother.

Yup, a conversation.  First ten minute conversation with her ever.

How do I know?  Two ways.  One, I could tell what she had asked him by his responses.

Two?  I heard him say “I’m going to stay up late and watch a show.” Pause as she asked him something. “Because my report card was AWESOME!”


Awesome pretty much sums up the rest of the night.  Howie, Gerry and Tim stayed up to watch a documentary on an aircraft carrier.  Howie asked completely appropriate questions along the way, and Tim stopped the show to answer.  Gerry did too.  They ate pretzels together and had some juice.  When it was over, they talked some more about aircraft carriers until it was bedtime.

It’s part of my job as a parent to remember nights like this one.  I have to remember that it’s not all about the behavior.  We constantly praise the “green choices” and redirect for the “red choices”.  We work on social skills, sensory integration management and self-regulation.

But just like any other kid, my kid wants to feel proud of himself for something.  It’s too abstract for an almost six year old to be proud of a day with no “interfering behaviors”.  But a day with an awesome report card?

That…that makes sense to him.

There’s your positive reinforcement right there.

Man, they said we better
Accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, do not mess with Mister In-Between
Do you hear me, hmm? – AC-CENT-TCHU-ATE the positive