How Things Look on Paper

Paper, paper everywhere. With Josiah’s autism diagnosis, between all of the insurance documents, daily report sheets from his therapy center, and multitude of forms to fill out, my counter always has paper on it. And file boxes and binders overflow with paper. I must plant some trees someday just to reconcile for the scads of paper this family has been responsible for using.

But there was one stapled report I haphazardly picked up before bed the other night, and I didn’t realize it was anything besides just another treatment plan for OT (Occupational Therapy) that was sent home. Instead, as my eyes darted across the page, I started to experience that feeling right above your diaphram when you get the wind knocked out of you. 

This was a more significant piece of paper. It was the re-evaluation report to monitor Josiah’s progress in OT. Statements like, “Josiah scored in the 1 percentile for his age of 4 years and 9 months” and “Josiah continues to present with significant sensory delays impacting his ability to maintain an optimal level of arousal for participation in functional tasks” turned on my waterworks. I HATE PAPER.

Man, and this was just OT. Have you seen how the kid moves and climbs? I kind of thought he was doing half-way decent in OT. I mean, I know Josiah has tons of developmental delays–those parent meetings where we get to see sheets with the colored bars and sky-high skill towers left largely unfilled prove that. But there’s something about hearing the therapists say, “He’s doing so well” and “He’s improved so much” and “He had a great day” that causes you to forget. It’s the paper that jolts you to reality. These are not the parent-teacher conferences and report cards that I had imagined for my little boy.

For whatever reason, a poor report makes me feel like I have failed somehow. Despite all of the work and prayers and vitamins and hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions, I couldn’t perform well enough to grease the wheels of true progress for my boy. I’m also coming to realize that I have issues–and God is healing them up in me–but they started when I was a kid, and having a child with special needs has unearthed some of my unhealthy paradigms of control. Let’s talk some revelation that’s been coming to me…

When I was young, I went to a Christian grade school. This program was really big into publicizing each student’s level of achievement. We had “star charts” in our little cubicles that anyone could see as they went by, and if you got something like a B or above on a test, you’d get a small star to stick on your chart. If you scored 100% on a test, you’d get a big gold star. Anything less, you got an understated green dot on your chart, which meant, “Way to pass, but don’t get too excited about your bald little dot.” We also had weekly assemblies where students would get “congratulation slips” (again, if you got a B or better on a test) that you would go upfront to receive it with a handshake from the proud principal as if you were walking up to get your diploma or something.

I’m just now processing kind of how messed up that was–and I was one of the best students who had tons of “big” stars and walked home with armful of awards every semester! I wonder now how the kids who didn’t do so well felt, how stupid and less-than that they thought they were because they had more dots than stars. But as for me, I was always after those BIG stars.

I’m sure the people who created the program had good intentions. There are probably psychological studies that support the goal-setting and public reward system. But, recently I had a distant memory come to my mind that jolted me a little bit. My great aunt, an “old maid” who lived with us until she died when I was 15, always loved to help me with my school work. I was struggling with a math assignment and she really quizzed me so I would be ready for the test. I came home with the congratulation slip that showed I scored a 91%, and I proudly showed it to Auntie. She said, “Well don’t worry, you’ll do better next time.”

I don’t want to get all lay-on-the-therapy-couch over the top with this, but I believe that phrase, along with  this private school’s public reward system can partially be credited for my drive to set high goals for myself to achieve, and can partially be blamed for an unhealthy dose of perfectionism that I am having to deconstruct, brick by brick. In every area, good was not good enough; I had to work until it was best (by no prodding from my parents, mind you). I mean, really, what’s more important–marks on a paper, or a real life person with a unique personality and strengths and heart? A person that God said he knew even before he formed her in her mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5)? In our weakness, He is strong, right?

So, tonight I’m trying to recalibrate. I am doing the very best I can. Without thrusting my head in the sand to the facts, I cannot focus on Josiah’s weaknesses and deficits. He’s a real boy–not made from wood, nor defined by paper–who is delightful, who loves music, who is full of endless joy, and who has a destiny that will likely astound us all. Or, as another important piece of paper says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

… A little addition, thanks to someone who commented on the post. Perfect.


4 Responses

  1. This post reminds me so much of the book by Max Lucado, “You are Special.” 🙂

  2. phil. 4:8 is such a good verse to cling to these days. thank you, my friend. i can also relate to the perfectionism. i always lived by the formula work hard, study hard, win and succeed. my little formula has been turned on its head and it’s a good thing, and i am humbled. makes me know not to “trust in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

    thinking of you, missing you.

  3. I love what you said, “…what’s more important, marks on a paper, or a real life person with a unique personality and strengths and heart…” This describes Josiah, but it also describes his mother!!! I/we continue to ask God for help and recovery for Josiah.

  4. Hi, I came here by way of the EBC family blog. My daughter was diagnosed with autism in August. She is 3 years old. I adore her. I can already relate to much of what you said. I too was a “BIG star” in school and I’m now starting to see how inconsequential all those marks on paper are. My daughter is absolutely delightful.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the verse where you bolded the words: good report. That speaks to me. Thank you.

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