Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pass the Pinot #5: Children's Birthday Parties

Here's one that I think a lot of people can agree on:  the horrors of the children's birthday party.  For the first few years there is the family version, which always reminds me of the old Seinfeld joke about how your first and last birthday parties are basically the same, "These are your friends!"  

Everyone claims to hate these parties, but, let's face it, for typical parents what's the worse case scenario?  Some forced merriment with a hated sister-in-law?  A migraine headache and a couple of sugar-buzzed kids?

For parents of a special needs child, it can be one of the more depressing opportunities to see your child falling short of their peers.  Especially if the party is for a child that is the same age as your special needs child, or, worse yet, younger.  You get to hang out with all of the mothers who were pregnant at the same time as you, but somehow managed to grunt out a "normal" kid.  While their kids are off organizing a pickup game of Kick the Can and making new friends left and right, your kid is off playing with the 9-month old sister's baby toys.  You drive yourself crazy trying to corral them into playing the party games, but they are completely uninterested and your attempts to get them involved only make their deficits more obvious to everyone.

To make matters worse, I've recently discovered that once kids hit kindergarten and start throwing the school-friend parties, parents don't stick around at all.  They drop their kids off at the birthday boy or girl's house, Chuck E Cheese, a jumpy house place, a pool, Pedophile Lonnie's House of Caves...they don't care, as long as they get a couple of hours to themselves. 

The birthday celebrant brings a stack of invitations to school and passes one out to every kid in class.  Something tells me that the parents hosting the party aren't bargaining on you dropping off your autistic child.  Can you imagine?  "Good luck!  See you in two!"

The first typical kids birthday party that Audrey was invited to was her friend Renee's, who is one of a few typically-developing peers that we have over for therapist-supervised playdates to help Audrey with her social and play skills.  Renee had her party at a place that was sort of like Build-A-Bear, but better because you got to stuff the bear with candy.  Even though I was the only parent that stayed for the party, it was a completely comfortable situation because the family knows Audrey well and they are wonderful and gracious and completely understanding of her disability.  Audrey didn't understand the games very well, and I had to constantly run interference between her and the cake.  If I took my eyes off of her for a second, she would have been face-down and ears-deep in it with a plastic princess lodged in one nostril.

After the party, Renee sent out photo thank-you cards.  Here's a fun game...see if you can pick out the autistic kid!

It was only her first one.  She'll get better at it.  Please God, let her get better at it.


  1. You wrote "playing with the 9month old's toys", but I think you may have meant "chewing on" the toys. FML

    I hate birthday parties and usually say no. If I say yes and hope it's a good social lesson, I often leave in tears. I'm not quite evolved enough, I guess...

  2. She's going to get better at it. It's hard now, and it will probably still be hard later, but you're doing the right thing by having her go (with you). And even if she's standing apart from the other kids, she's absolutely adorable with her pixie cut and jean jumper!

  3. My solution- I just don't go. It's probably not the best answer but I feel like when I give in to "give him that experience" we BOTH leave in horrible moods and I think the afternoon could've been spent so much better elsewhere.

  4. she will totally get better at it
    she is lovely already
    love thepost

  5. the thing with these years is that while our kiddos are making arithmetic progress NT kids are making exponential progress
    but that rate of progress changes
    Plus the social situations are really the worst for our kiddos

  6. I....yeah, I can't laugh at this yet. The Boy got invited to a few parties while in typical pre-k, but only those where they invited the whole class. Nobody really bothered with him at those parties because he never really bothered with anybody else. Since we homeschool now we don't get any invitations, and I am both relieved and sad about it. One of the reasons I started a playgroup for kids with special needs is because I'd hoped we'd meet some new friends to invite to a birthday party for the litte guy. That's in August. Wish Audrey lived closer, she'd be our first invite for sure.

  7. It really varies with my daughter. Sometimes she really gets into parties and is relatively social, other times, well, not so much. I do have pictures of her that look just like the one you posted. I get heartbroken when I look at those picture. I totally get it. It'll probably get better, but she's still going to have unsocial days.

  8. I think Dani and Heather nailed it for alot of ASD parents...even if we know that it could be a "teachable" experience for our kids, is it worth it if we are thrown into a weeks-long depression over it? My ABA consultant has offered to accompany her and I think it could be a good idea. On one hand, it might make them stick out even more, but on the other, it's alot more constructive than having me there choking back my sobs.

  9. "For parents of a special needs child, it can be one of the more depressing opportunities to see your child falling short of their peers." So, so true, Lynn. Your post really resonates, you capture exactly how it felt recently when I took my 4 year old son, who has autism, to a friend's daughter's birthday party.
    And Dani G, I too often leave those parties in tears. In a way it helps to know I'm not alone...

  10. My son's 5th birthday is coming up this week-end, he'll be spending it with cousins/family that he has seen once or twice in his life.
    He's in school, but they aren't really his friends and therefore, won't be here.
    I know he'll love it and he'll be so happy to have his gluten free mario cake and to open his presents... but...
    well, this definitely isn't how I pictured it.
    I don't even take him to other children's parties because he's too obsessed with making it all about him. He just doesn't get it yet.

    Oh well, it is what it is.

  11. Birthday parties have been getting better for us, depending on where they are too. If it is outside, perfect. And not too many people notice my son playing with dirt or rocks the whole time if it is outside and there are lots of kids.

    And I hear you on the parents dropping off! We went to our first 5 year old party a few weeks ago and all the "posh" moms literally threw their kids in the door and then discussed where they were meeting for coffee and rushed off. I, of course, had to stay, and probably always will.

  12. That picture is priceless.

    We've lucked out on the parties. All Deaf kids all the time. My son invited a couple Hearing friends to his last party, and they didn't come. Whatever.

  13. I hear this.
    We don't take our daughter to parties unless she (and we) spend time with the family hosting the party on a regular basis. Simply because it would be way more stressful than fun for her.
    It's tough. (your pic captures it perfectly!)
    Good for you for trying.