Birthday Parties: Not Child’s Play for Children with Autism

by J

This weekend, S was invited to a birthday party, for one of his classmates, at a local bounce and play type center. Based on previous experience, I had a feeling that S wasn’t going to be into the bouncing so much. Don’t get me wrong, if he had the opportunity to visit the place when no one was there, and spend 45 minutes warming up while watching me bounce, he would love it! He loves to jump and bounce and go crazy. However, no such opportunity existed, and as expected, he did not enter even one bouncy house. Much to my surprise though, he did enter the party room for about 15 minutes and rode one of those little flinstone-style cars that you push with your feet. Of course, just as he was getting comfortable, they turned down the lights and up the music. That was it!.. He abandoned the car and headed for the door.

We spent the remaining hour and fifteen minutes in the lobby… jumping. Go figure! Who goes to a bouncy house and then jumps in the lobby?.. my son. And well, the other 2 kids at the party who are S’s classmates with autism.

You know what though?, S had an absolute blast. When the party was over, he didn’t want to leave… he had so much fun, just jumping off of a bench for an hour and then eating some pretzels and a cupcake. And you know what else is awesome? I enjoyed it too! For the first time at an event like this, I was able to let go of what I thought S *should* be doing to have fun, and was able to appreciate that all that really mattered was that S was having fun in his own little way. I think that finally having decided to be open about S’s autism has made it easier for me to meet S where he is. And what is funny, is I didn’t even tell anyone at the party. Just knowing in my head that it didn’t matter if people knew or not, made all of the difference in the world. Before, I would’ve been worried that people were staring or wondering why S didn’t want to play in the bouncy house. I would’ve felt self conscious that he would be singled out and I would’ve been disappointed that he wasn’t enjoying the party the way it was intended. But not this time. This time I let go of all of my preconceived visions of how a child should play at a birthday party and I just enjoyed watching my little boy jump off a bench for an hour.

It certainly helped that as the evening progressed, his other classmates with autism wandered into the lobby. Though, they had both initially bounced for a bit, they too seemed overwhelmed with the whole event and took refuge in the quiet lobby with friends. It was nice being around people who understood and that I knew were not judging. It really made me realize that expanding my network of families with children on the spectrum is very important; this is something I need to make a priority.

I know another thing for sure; I need to start planning S’s birthday party now… 6 months in advance. It seems silly, as I’ve shot weddings that were planned in less time. But, the bottom line is that I need to find a place to host his party where he will be 100% comfortable and familiar. I’m going to start visiting places now, to see what he likes and then continue to go there with him over the next few months. I know my son is capable of having fun at his birthday party, but I know that won’t happen by booking a place 3 weeks in advance and having him enter a room with 10 kids in it… you know, how most children’s birthday parties are planned.

No, this one is going to take some time and be well thought out. That’s autism for ya… take something as simple as planning a birthday party for a 3 year old and it feels like planning a major event. I do want him to have a party though. We skipped one last year and just did cake and ice cream with grandparents. I knew that S wouldn’t have enjoyed any sort of party last year… regardless of the amount of care and planning that went into it. But, I know that if done correctly, it is possible for this year… I know he can have fun… even if it is out in the lobby.