THE BLOG

Thank You for the Participation Ribbon

I am the proud mother of a child with Asperger's, and my son gets a hard lesson in life every day. His lessons are not related to points on a scoreboard or winning and losing, his lessons are about dealing with people.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

2015-09-02-1441221163-962994-elijah.jpg

I understand that this isn't exactly the popular response, and believe me when I say, "I get it!"

As a former, probably overly competitive athlete, I understand the debate over giving out participation ribbons/trophies. And if you were to rewind about 10 years, then I'd probably find myself on the side that is highly against giving out these kind of redundant rewards in a society which often rewards too much for subpar performance. It's an unfortunate society of entitlement where reward is expected regardless if it is earned or not, so believe me when I say that I totally understand.

But forgive me if I don't understand why teaching the harsh realities of the world is necessary in something that is supposed to be fun and bring joy to a group of young kids. Forgive me if I don't understand how a lesson of not receiving a ribbon for participating is supposed to prepare my son for the harshness that the world has to offer. And forgive me when I tell you that winning and losing is not what really prepares you for the real world. Dealing with and understanding others, attempting to be understood, working alongside others regardless of differences, and ultimately the acceptance of others is what prepares you for the real world, or at least it should anyway.

So forgive me when I tell you that I don't need to prepare my son for the real world on the field. You and your children prepare him for the real world every day, so forgive me if I don't see how getting or not getting a ribbon is supposed to do that.

In fact, if getting a ribbon for participating alters my child's ability to function in the real world whatsoever, then I have far worse problems as a parent because I'm obviously not doing my job. We are placing a lot of power on these ribbons if we are claiming it has that kind of power to alter our children's sense of entitlement. You might want to consider taking away that cell phone instead of that ribbon. For some of us, those ribbons have a bit more meaning.

I am the proud mother of a child with Asperger's, and my son gets a hard lesson in life every day. His lessons are not related to points on a scoreboard or winning and losing, his lessons are about dealing with people. His lessons are about trying to understand situations that are hard to understand for even us adults, his lessons are trying to control his emotions when things aren't going ok, his lessons are trying to understand other children when sarcasm and facial expressions are like a foreign language, his lessons are trying to work with other children/teammates who often look at him as if he comes from another planet, his lesson is to try and appear "normal" when everything in him screams "THIS IS NOT NORMAL!" And even more, his lessons are about dealing with the young children you are helping to raise as well as the often ignorance of the parents raising those children.

Team sports are such a challenge for my son, and it has nothing to do with the challenges of the sport itself. The sport is challenging because he has to try and understand and be understood by other people that just don't get it. By parents who just don't get it. By a coach who may not get it. By a world that just doesn't get it.

And I get it. I get the wonderfulness of sports and competing and being great because you earned it. I get that feeling of "earning" a trophy and what it represents. I also get the skill and hard work and devotion it takes to become a great athlete. I even love watching these athletes perform and train and the devotion of their parents to help them achieve their dreams. But many of us are not these types of parents raising these types of athletes. Some of us sign our kids up just because they want to play or to teach other skills as well as just watch them have fun and experience joy.

This is why there are different types of leagues. There are leagues that are available for those elite, highly competitive athletes that train and participate on a different level. And if you think your child doesn't deserve a participation ribbon and needs to "earn it," then by all means join one of those leagues.

But if you're like me, and you are so proud that your child and you made it through the season mostly unharmed, that there were a few less tantrums than last season, a few less times of chasing butterflies or throwing grass and more times of paying attention, a few more lessons in social interactions that are often challenging, a few more friends, or just a few more laughs. Then I can't wait to see you blowing up my newsfeed with all your pictures of these little moments when they receive that special ribbon or trophy. And you better believe I'll be blowing up yours.

So to the leagues that offer these magnificent ribbons and trophies just for "participating," THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart, thank you for bringing out those shrilling screams when you hand him that trophy. Thank you for making him jump for joy and laugh so loud. Thank you for contributing to this huge smile on his face when I try and get him to focus so I can capture a picture. Thank you for making him feel special for just "participating" (although it was highly more than that) because although the rest of the world would like me to make him earn his "specialness," I already know he did!

2015-09-02-1441220970-81927-soccercollage.jpg