Birthday Parties & Autism: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
We’ve attended a few birthday parties lately – it is certainly birthday party season here at Chez Russell. I have written before about how problematic birthday parties can be for kids on the autism spectrum and the joy and relief I felt when we finally had a positive and relaxed birthday party experience.
So the first party of this latest birthday party season was greeted with a mixture of emotions. Hope, as the last outing had been such a success. Excitement, as there was going to be dancing, cake and lolly bags. And, of course, trepidation, as it was a new venue and who knows how that was going to go…
It was a disco party and as soon as the music was blaring, Gilbert’s self-timer started to tick-down until he could not cope anymore. I gave him my ipad to get his focus off the roar of the music but it could not distract him from the manic dancing of the other kids or the balloons that seemed to be everywhere.
He lasted 20 mins before he asked to be taken out of the room. I checked on Matilda (who was happily dancing away) and took him outside for a walk. I hoped against hope that he would be happy to go back into the room after the break but once he was within ear shot of the music again he stood his ground and refused to go in.
I felt the familiar disappointment of plans gone awry.
Somehow I convinced him to come back in for a moment so I could let his sister know that we would be sitting outside and could seek out a friend to keep an eye on her. I took Gilbert out to a table just outside the door and waited it out.
We were joined on and off by others who needed a break and by Matilda who came out for a breather as well. By the look of her dress I knew she had been chewing on it and hoped she wasn’t too stressed by my absence.
In the end, Gilbert consented to go back in when it was time for cake and to accept his lolly bag. Thankfully, the music had finished by this stage which meant there were less bodies hurling themselves everywhere and there were also far less balloons floating about.
He was suddenly back to normal and happy to interact with his friends, including the birthday boy and girl. It never ceases to amaze me how sensory sensitivity can completely change a child’s behaviour….
While this was a step back from the giddy heights of the previous party, it was also encouraging to see how quickly he recovered. The fact he was able to interact appropriately once the sensory issues were resolved shows how very far he has come. I was very proud of how he got through it.
I was also proud of Matilda who did confess later that she was worried when I left the room but was able to overcome it. Sure, she had a soaked dress sash by the end of the party from all her chewing but it calmed her down and allowed her to enjoy all the fun of the disco party.
So, the next week brought another party, of a completely different kind. An ice-skating party, no less.
Now I have been ice-skating only once in my life – I vividly remember never letting go of that wretched granny frame the entire time I was there. Not even to give to a child who may have needed it. Nuh-uh. Can’t say it was the most positive experience of my life, which probably explains why I never went back…
Gilbert was, surprisingly, very interested in the idea of ice-skating and couldn’t wait to go. I was surprised as his vision is poor and I couldn’t see how he could safely navigate the ice, particularly with lots of people around and music being played over the loud speaker.
We arrived a little late (which made him worry that he had missed the ice-skating part) to find the kids in the party room ready to have lunch. He sat next to his best friend from school and enjoyed his lunch while the party host organised his skates.
He was happy to have them put on and then proceeded to burst into giggles whenever he tried to walk on them. At this stage, I honestly couldn’t see him getting on the ice at all but he gradually got his balance and was able to walk to the rink with minimal assistance.
Encouraged by his friends and intensely motivated himself, he took hold of the frame and moved out onto the ice. And he just kept going. He had occasional assistance from a floating helper but he pretty much took himself into the thick of it and had the time of his life.
I didn’t join him (I may have been scarred from my earlier experience) and that didn’t bother him. He’d come back every little while to check I was still there and to show me his prowess and then off he’d go again.
After a while he noticed that one of his classmates had ditched the frame and wanted to do the same – he tried too, the little game bugger, until he realised it was better to have the frame afterall for extra support. He then contented himself with jumping in time to the music!
I swear, he would have stayed there all day if I’d let him…in the end I had to promise a trip back there in the holidays with the whole family so he could show them how to skate. You see, he’s an expert, now!
So while we suffered a step back the week before, this experience was definitely another huge step forward, both for Gilbert and for me. He had taken a leap of faith and showed courage and curiosity to go out onto the ice all by himself.
And I had seen his drive and dogged determination and vowed then and there to never assume what he could or couldn’t do ever again.
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