It’s a sad truth, but kids on the spectrum don’t often get invited to parties, birthday or otherwise. Over the years I’ve grown used to this difficult state of affairs–even as it continued to frustrate and sadden me. These children may be late bloomers developmentally, but in most other ways they are the same as every other kid, and what child doesn’t love a party?
No one loves a party more than my eleven-year-old daughter Katie. Katie has few friends, so a lack of invitations didn’t surprise me. But she does have seven cousins. Invitations to their parties would have given Katie more than enough opportunities to practice birthday party etiquette. But Katie hasn’t been invited to her cousins’ parties for years. Like I said, it’s difficult, not to mention isolating.
For a long time, the only parties Katie attended were either the ones I hosted or else neighborhood parties. (Fortunately my wonderful neighbors have been more than willing to tolerate Katie’s sometimes difficult behavior and comment on every improvement, no matter how minor.) Last year, however, things began to change. In addition to her own birthday party and three neighborhood ones, Katie was invited to a classmate’s 10th birthday party as well as to a large barbecue at the home of one of my friends. (You can read about that party here.) She did great at both events.
This spring, Katie was invited to two more birthday parties. One was a swim party and the other was held at the local bowling alley. Another swim party occurred this month.
These parties are populated with autistic children and their families. To the casual observer, they might look like any other party, but they differ in subtle ways. Usually the adults are the only ones holding a conversation. No one thinks twice if a child refuses to participate, hogs a swim toy, insists on the blue bowling ball, or needs a break outside. It’s low key and relaxed. Everyone has a great time in their own way, which is how it should be at every party.
Sometimes, everything is wonderful until in an instant, it’s not. No one bats an eye or judges the child or the parents. Instead we smile and say, that happened to us last week….
I cannot explain how amazing these parties are. Perhaps it’s because Katie and I waited so long for the invitation. Or maybe it’s just that everyone who attends belongs to my strange, new tribe called autism.
It was a long time coming, but I’m tremendously grateful for these parties, these kids, their siblings, and their parents. Together, we are growing, learning, and most importantly, having fun on our crazy but inspiring autism journey.
Until next time,