Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Birthday parties and Autism

We had Olivia's birthday party on Sunday. We go all out for her birthday party for many reasons.

1-We think our kids' birthday party should be THEIR day where they get to be the center of attention and have things their way.

2-We love our kids a whole bunch and their birthday is the celebration of their birth. I know I'm stating the obvious for most of you but you wouldn't believe how many people don't get the connection. Sad.

3-We don't let our daughter play with just anyone. That means she has very few "play dates". I know we are the meanest parents ever but we are not willing to take a chance on something traumatic happening to her by playing with the "wrong" kids.

4-Stephen has really enjoyed her parties and being "one of the kids" and he doesn't really have friends. We have tried inviting kids from his class (which is very small every year) in the past and one kid showed up one year. Plus, we don't want to just invite kids to have bodies at his party. We want to invite kids that Stephen has a connection with and he doesn't have many. We have a party for him every year but it's just friends and family and it's just not the same experience he has at a "real" birthday party.
How is my son, who is severely affected by Autism, able to participate in his little sister's birthday party?
Well, we didn't tell any of the kids he has Autism. Not because we are ashamed or it's some big secret but because we wanted to give Stephen the opportunity to be himself and figured if any of the kids had an issue with his behavior we would do some explaining. Another factor that helps him participate in the party is that Stephen limits his hand flapping, echolalia and other "odd" behavior himself when he is around NTs. We have never stopped his "odd" behaviors or stimming or made him feel ashamed of it and over time he has noticed how other people act in social settings or in public and realizes that it isn't considered "acceptable" so he reserves "really expressing himself' for his classroom and at home. He is able to blend on his own. We feel that if we make some announcement or tell the other kids he has Autism right off the bat they will be looking for him to do something "weird" or automatically not like him because he has been labeled as "different" in their minds. I only heard one child say to Olivia, "Is that your brother?" and that was it. No teasing, no rude remarks or leaving him out.
Another reason Stephen does so well at her parties is that his little sister loves him and accepts him and wouldn't even think of not having him at her party. We have always talked to Olivia about accepting and being sympathetic towards ANYBODY with something that makes them different. We have taught her that everyone is here for a reason and deserves respect and empathy. We have always praised her for being such a loving sister to her brother.

Notice that Stephen, who LOVES candy is the only kid not crawling around on the floor grabbing it up like they'll never have any again!

He didn't like the blind fold but did write his name on the paper "tail" and stuck it on the poster when it was his turn.
I hope that all of the positive, inclusive, experiences Stephen is having now at his sister's parties is preparing him for his birthday parties with his own friends or parties that he will be invited to someday.
How do your kids handle birthday parties, their own, siblings, other kids', etc. ?


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danette said...

I love your comments about teaching your daughter the importance of showing kindness and respect to everyone. You'd think that would be common sense, but sadly not everyone does that :(.

Birthday parties... I'm totally with you on making it the child's special day, whatever is fun for them. We've had two birthday parties with other kids for our twin boys (who are now 8), and kept both small. Mostly we do something fun as a family. So far all of Bitty's "parties" (very low-key since he is just now starting to get the whole concept of birthdays) have been just the 5 of us. This year will be the same, although he's actually showing an interest in it for the first time this year :).

The main thing for us, with all of our boys, is to try to keep it simple because we don't want to stress them out with sensory overload on their special day.

I love the pictures you posted, it looks like both of your kids, and all the guests, had a great time!

StatMama said...

Looks like so much fun! We go big on birthdays, too, for many of the same reasons. Birthdays are something special they will look back on and remember as they grow.