How far we have come: Autism and Birthday Parties

Once upon a time, there was a mother who had a very bad day. Her three year old little boy had been invited to a birthday party by one of the other children at his preschool. Given his age, it was the kind of party where parents stay and join in the fun. The mother picked out a card, and put some money inside - not knowing what the child would like as a gift, and deciding that the birthday boy might like to have his own money to pick something.

Come party time, she and her son arrived promptly, at a house full of strangers, hoping that the party would be a fun experience for the both of them. It wasn't. That mother was me, and that little boy was my son.

The party might have been fun, had Miniman been the type of child who was able to interact with other children easily. Instead he was overwhelmed by the number of children, and while the bouncy castle looked like fun, he was too terrified to take part - despite looking longingly from the sidelines at the other children having fun. He clung to me, and his teddy, not enjoying himself at all. I wasn't faring much better. To explain over again to several adults that my son didn't talk, and that I didn't know why wasn't fun.

The entertainer that had been hired was just as stressful. Miniman was not at all interested. In fact, the only thing he was interested in was the food, and I fought a losing battle to keep him away from the food until it was time. Eventually the party ended, and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

That was the last time that Miniman would be invited to a birthday party until he was almost eight. Shortly after, he was diagnosed as being "somewhere" on the autistic spectrum. They're that vague in the UK.

Going through school, in the UK, I would hear the school gate chatter - mothers planning great birthday parties for their loved ones. Miniman never received an invitation. After the one experience of birthday parties that I had, I was half relieved. But the other half hurt for him. He was oblivious, but I felt bad that he was missing out on an experience that all kids should be allowed to have.

As is the nature of autism, he was the kind of child to keep to himself, preferring lone play over interacting with somebody else. He preferred adult company over kids company, and so didn't have many friends. Not ones we could arrange a play date with, and so it was tough to know who to invite to a party of his own. So we did special things as a family with some friends instead.

Last year, things changed a little. We, as a family, befriended another alien family, who had moved from The Netherlands.  Dutch Alien Lands in the US blogger, Annemarie, and her family met up with us one day on a trip to Six Flags theme park, and while still overwhelmed, Miniman had a fantastic time. Annemarie's two boys were wonderful with Miniman, and just... accepted him as he is.

Since then, we had a few playdates, and we were invited as a family to the youngest boy's birthday party, back in November.. We all had a wonderful time, and while Miniman was a little bit of a pickle, as he adjusted to the surroundings in this strange house, he was a totally different child to the one that attended that party five years before. Now he asks to visit them all the time, and is particularly fond of their older son, who is a year and half older. Annemarie's family have really increased Miniman's confidence in interacting with others, and our friendship has done wonders for all of us.

In the meantime, Jamie has gone to a couple of parties, but they were invitations given to his sister, and he was a tag along. This weekend though? Mini Madam is the tag along! A young lad from his school special education class has invited him to his birthday party, and we are so excited. It's his first own invitation since he was three, and this family GET it. I have no idea how this party is going to go, but we are thrilled to attend the party of another child who has his own communication challenges.

Perhaps this new experience will give me the motivation I need to finally bite the bullet, and host Miniman's first  proper birthday party of his own since he was aged one.

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