The Stealth Honor Student

When you’re in the thick of it with difficult times, it can be helpful to step back, breathe, and appreciate some small — or not so small — success. Sometimes you have to seek out these small triumphs, sometimes they find you.

Ryan spent the weekend battling a head cold. The congestion exacerbated his facial tic and the accompanying snorting and sniffling. This bothers us a lot more than it bothers Ryan. It’s a behavior that makes him stand out much more than anything else we have dealt with, and not in a good way. In the middle of this came his meltdown over the shots on goal total in an NHL game. He’s also not sleeping well, even by his standards, which aren’t great to begin with.

All of this combined to leave us feeling very sad about where things stood.

We thought Ryan should probably stay home from school Tuesday, but when he got up both his sniffles and his tic and abated. He was in a great mood and insistent that he wanted to go to school.

Despite his challenges, Ryan enjoys school. He is thriving in the carefully structured environment. He is pulling down straight As.

Stop. Breathe. Appreciate.

I awoke with a heavy heart Tuesday after the difficult weekend. But on my commute to work, I tried to focus on the image of a smiling, happy Ryan looking forward to returning to school and refusing to hear of staying home.

That memory jogged another. At some point during the weekend, I was fixing something on the computer in Ryan’s room. While doing so, I began to clean up a drawer in his desk which was crammed with various junk — everything from a broken alarm clock to parts from long-ago discarded computers to various school papers.

One item caught my eye, one of those bumper stickers you see on so many suburban minivans. In truth, it was an item I never thought I’d get from my son, only from my daughter:

Honor Student
Coming soon to a minivan bumper near you

I took it downstairs to show Veronica. She didn’t know about it either.

I asked Ryan about it. He had been given it during the last week for the achievements on his latest report card. He didn’t think it was a big deal. We both told him it was a big deal, and how proud we were of all his accomplishments.

My son is an honor student.

My SON is an honor student.

MY SON IS AN HONOR STUDENT.

Stop. Breathe. Appreciate.

Ryan is in resource room for most of his classes. We have actually expressed concern about wether he is being sufficiently challenged academically. We are already debating our approach for his next IEP meeting. We believe the environment and pace of the resource room classes is what allows him to succeed. We will seek ways for him to be pushed academically, but not at the expense of his comfort level. At this point in his academic development, self-confidence and self-belief are as important as anything, and that is what we hope he can gain from the current setup.

It remains a work in progress. In recent months, Ryan has expressed awareness of his differences. He has questioned his intelligence. We attempt to combat this by pointing out the incredible things he can remember and calculate in his head that so few others can. But he is aware of his struggles in other areas, such as reading comprehension. Veronica told him that when he gets to college, he won’t have to take any reading classes. He can just focus on the subjects at appeal to him.

Sometimes the difficulties, the struggles, the differences, the negatives can become so overwhelming they push any and all successes to the background.

We have to combat that feeling, both in how we look at our son, and in how we interact with him. Veronica and I try to remind each other not to nitpick at him over little things. If asking him to be aware of his tic could stop it, it would long be a thing of the past.

There are things we need to point out, reminders we have to provide. That is part of tthe process of arming him with the tools to navigate his world. But just as importantly, we have to praise his successes and build his self-esteem.

I am incredibly proud of Ryan for becoming an honor student. I wish that meant more to him, that he would run home with the bumper sticker and ask us to put it on the car — the way Riley would — rather than stuff it in a drawer. But his lack of appreciation doesn’t diminish the accomplishment.

My son is an honor student. I need to stop, breathe, and appreciate that fact every time I feel frustrated or sad.

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