Birthday Parties & Autism: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Image courtesy zole4 –

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!

The real Gilbert on ice – he’s the one in the middle with snow white hair…

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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12 Responses

  1. LizC says:

    Can’t believe he was ice-skating! Hooray! There’s no way we could get the skates on our boy (couldn’t get the ten pin bowling shoes on him). Here’s hoping they both survive next weekend’s party.

    • Kirsty says:

      Liz, I couldn’t believe my eyes when he went out there and stayed out there without me. I was so, so proud of him! Have we RSVP’d to the party next week- because we are coming!!!

  2. Bronwyn says:

    That is so wonderful that he had a great time iceskating. That is just fantastic … but also that he feels comfortable in the birthday party celebrations for both.

    Thanks for sharing on Life on the Spectrum!
    Bronwyn recently posted..Life on the Spectrum – Reflection edition

    • Kirsty says:

      I have seen some real progress with him this year. He will never be fully comfortable at discos and unstructured parties like that but give him an activity like ten pin bowling or ice skating and he seems to cope far better. Next challenge is a party at an indoor playland, hoping he copes better there than the last time he went to one where we had to eat outside the party room because of the balloons…a pleasure to join in the link-up Bronwyn!

  3. Sharon says:

    HI there,
    found your blog today. Nice to find another Australian mummy ASD blogger.
    Regards Sharon
    Sharon recently posted..Update on Harri.

    • Kirsty says:

      Hi Sharon, thanks for introducing yourself. I love finding other Aussie ASD blogs too, will be coming over to visit yours very soon!

  4. The Rambling Pages says:

    These kids amaze us, things we worry about and they take in their stride against the odds. We have recently started to get invites to parties and I am beginning to relax about taking Little Man, he suddenly seems capable of enjoying them, and nothing too major happening. He finds the loud ones and the ones with tem events difficult to handle but it is a huge step forwards and one we love. Well done to your son with his ice skting and for being brave enough to have a go without the frame!

    • Kirsty says:

      I think as you go along parties and social gatherings are less daunting, particularly as you see your child’s coping strategies and you feel more confident in yourself too! Structured parties are the best for my son and he certainly seems to get more out of them. Loud music or noise (like at ten pin bowling) do affect him and his ability to cope at indoor play land parties seems to depend on his mood and level of anxiety on the day. It is a learning curve but it’s one we’re enjoying – glad to hear you’re feeling happier about them too!

  5. Wow! Ice skating? That is fabulous! I’m so super impressed – not more because I’m too chicken to do it myself! Great that he has an activity he really enjoys too. xx
    Kellie @ Three Li’l Princesses recently posted..The Wonder Week: Wake me when it’s over

    • Kirsty says:

      You could have knocked me over with a feather when he went out on the ice by himself! With my own terrible track record with ice skating I did not expect him to enjoy it but he did – guess where we’ll be going these school holidays? He wants to show his sisters “how it’s done” (his words!) – love it!

  6. MultipleMum says:

    I think birthday parties are challenging for many kids, not only those with ASD. I don’t envy you the extra degree of difficulty though! My son went to an ice-skating party recently too (must be the latest craze?) – I don’t think they had those frames available. Lots like a great idea for beginners! Thanks for rewinding. Lovely to meet you and Gilbert x
    MultipleMum recently posted..Weekend Rewind: A little burst of Spring

    • Kirsty says:

      I think ice-skating is definitely the latest craze – I was truly dreading it but it turned out really well in the end. We haven’t been back since but it might very well be an ideal outing during the upcoming school holidays!

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