Sometimes, I have to admit, life forces me to try something new with my daughter, and virtually every time, Katie wildly exceeds my expectations. You’d think I’d remember this by now, but I almost never do. Which is why, perhaps, circumstances continue to force me along, prodding me to help my autistic child grow and adapt.
This time the circumstances were fairly simple: I was invited to a party in Marin. Guests were instructed to bring spouses or significant others as well as kids. As usual, I ignored this and lined up a sitter.
The day before the party, the sitter called to tell me she was sick, really sick, and couldn’t sit. I’d wanted to see my friend Deborah that night in San Francisco. She was house-sitting and had proposed a free tango exhibition at the de Young Museum. In the spirit of trying new things, I’d agreed. Without a sitter I couldn’t see Deborah (or the tango), and I didn’t know what to do about the party.
I tried to find another sitter, but couldn’t. I considered not going, but I hadn’t seen many of my friends in over a year. Finally, given no alternative, I opted to bring Katie. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been invited. Maybe, I thought snarkily, it was time to educate my friends about the reality of autism.
Smaller functions can still challenge Katie, so I figured we would go to the party, make a brief appearance, and then leave. Since Marin is a long way from home, I contacted Deborah and asked if she wanted to meet us for dinner. She suggested meeting at the party so she could help with Katie if necessary. I thought this was an excellent idea.
The party was in full swing when we arrived. Unfazed, Katie dove in and headed straight for the backyard while I was waylaid in the living room. Soon Katie returned with a hot dog bun in hand. “I’m hungry,” she said.
Lately Katie is always hungry. I set her up with chicken, roasted vegetables, kale salad, tri tip, corn salad, a hunk of feta cheese, and another roll for good measure. The “no special diet at party” rule was in effect, and Katie took full advantage.
It turns out there were plenty of kids in attendance, including another boy with autism. While Katie didn’t engage in any conversation, she behaved appropriately and enjoyed herself. She even approached a group of teenagers and asked for ice cream—twice!
A few times Deborah or I noticed an issue and thought we were heading for a meltdown, but both times I got Katie to a quiet spot, wrapped her in her hooded blanket, and reminded her to breathe. Both times she calmed down and rejoined the party. Both times I said a silent prayer of thanks.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have brought her, let alone stayed until well into the evening. But this year, to my surprise, it was not only possible, but I was able to carry on a conversation and let her do her thing. At one point Katie was watering the plants while I sat near the firepit drinking wine and talking, stunned to discover that I was RELAXED. I’m still wrapping my head around it. Similar to when my dad took Katie shopping (you can read about that here), I can feel my assumptions and expectations recalibrating—and that’s a beautiful thing.
A big part of this success, of course, is due to my wonderful friends who took Katie’s many eccentricities in stride. And while I didn’t educate them in the way I envisioned before the party, Katie still helped put a “face” on autism. I heard many comments on how beautiful and charming, how “surprisingly happy,” and how smart she was. They saw how hard it was for her to communicate and learned how sensory issues can impact, well, pretty much everything. Most of all, they accepted her, and that allowed us both to relax and have fun—in our own ways.
It’s taken ten long years, but I’m finally having a truly fun and relaxing summer with my child. That’s the best birthday gift of all.
Until next time,