On Autism And Birthday Parties

Raising children puts you on a perpetual mountainous ride of elation and heartbreak. Dan & I have said that the flux between these two emotions which cycles every week or two with the "typical" child happens on a daily basis for us and Elliot. The lows are a bit lower, and the highs a bit higher. Today was no exception, in fact the ride was on and we were in the fast car.

Today we had a friend's birthday party for school. Elliot's dearest friend, in fact. Anyone who knows anything about the autism spectrum can easily imagine why a child's birthday party could be a nightmare for a quirky kiddo. Heightened emotions, sensory blasting, social chaos and the stress of anticipation name only a few reasons.

The day started with ice-skating. My boys' third day on the ice. And there were hockey sticks and pucks involved. I felt my gut tighten. Elliot stunned me. He grabbed a stick and off he went, chasing his friends. He was so committed to being socially involved with his friends that he worked with heart-wrenching effort at skating to keep up with the faster few. I couldn't believe his progress, and was elated with his connectedness to his friends (Arrive at Mount Elation Peak 1). However, there were two rounds of sad quiet tears in the first 20 minutes as he realized he couldn't keep up like he wanted (Plunge to Heartbreak Valley 1). I kept encouraging him, and I'll be darned if he just didn't keep himself going......all the way through to game's end, participating in the "huddles" and enjoying the thrill of the single goal the kids scored against the grown-ups (Climb to Elation Peak 2).

I forgot to mention that Elliot went into this day fighting off a cold. For most children this is a drag but manageable. Elliot can manage it, but it requires a decent amount of energy to just physically regulate his sensory system. (Mini-break to Sea of Stress)

Off we go then to the rec center for pizza, cake and presents. Pizza is opened, all with tomato sauce. Elliot doesn't really care for tomato sauce. And he's been such a good eater lately (the boy does curry and mussels for heaven's sake!) that we get him another kind of sauce when we order pizza. More quiet tears and anxiety over lunch. On a typical day he would ride this out much better, but not today. (Ride back on down this time to Valley of Exasperation). He pulls it together fairly quickly, decides to not try pizza, and sits down with his friends and drinks his apple cider.

After lunch the boys all run around and play. It's encouraging to see Elliot enjoying himself again, his friends enjoying him and all their silliness - except for the one moment where we caught them all trying to stick their heads in the rubbish bin. (Moving back on up to the Peak of Parenting Warm Fuzzies).

Presents are opened, and then the the announcement is made that the "thank you presents" for the guests will be coming in the mail this week. Now I do not have an ungrateful, indulged child. But this sent Elliot over the edge.  And while all the children were a bit disappointed, Elliot's poor brain could not regulate it at this point at all. (Crash to Valley of Despair and Heartbreak and end ride there for the day).

We ended up going outside for a walk, and hanging out the two of us until it was time to go. He just couldn't recover. No tantrum - just an overwhelming disappointment and inability to cope. And while I could understand where this was coming from and be compassionate, I certainly couldn't tolerate the behavior.  I mean, seriously, you can't cry and be upset over not getting a present at another person's party.

Dan took the Q-Man to rock-n-roll church later (a topic for another time), and Elliot & I had a quiet evening together of reading, music and reflecting on the day. Despite the intensity of his day, he's eager to return to the hockey ice next weekend. We wrote his friend a brief note for tomorrow, apologizing for his sad end to the party and thanking him for a fun time and the invitation. We talked about autism again and how sometimes it makes things extra hard. I hoped to help him understand his day without feeling bad about himself. I think together we succeeded.

I would give anything for Elliot's life to be a bit easier for him, but I'm not complaining. I've got an awesome healthy boy. Two of them, in fact. Make that three if you throw in the 40 year old. Autism can try to beat me up any old day. But maybe a slower car next time, please.