Over the weekend, we took J&S to a birthday party for a little boy in our neighborhood who was turning 3. Sam has been to many in the last few months — quick little affairs that were more playdate than party, but John has ABA just about every Saturday and so has stayed home with his daddy.
A little history: We went to our first birthday party last summer. Held at the Little Gym, it was full of loud, boisterous children and structured into dance time, singing time, and sitting-to-eat-pizza-and-cake time. In short, everything that my boys hate. It was one of our first big outings where there was a large group of neurotypical children and we were barely one month into hearing our diagnoses.
I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that it was rough all around.
When all you see and know every day is your own children, it can come as a shock to meet their peers and see how much more they’re saying and doing. Both boys were overloaded with sensory stuff and tantrummed pretty badly. Because of their food issues, they refused to sit at the table, nevermind try birthday cake. Back then, we had yet to hear even one word out of their mouths.
I remember a lot of stares, a lot of open mouths. I remember two little boys who kept seeking the exit door at every opportunity and the non-stop stimming. I remember feeling red-faced and hot and incompetent. Both of us were relieved when we were able to duck out, saying our goodbyes while each trying to restrain our respective child.
So yesterday’s party inspired a bit of apprehension. There were 15 children expected and it was being thrown by a party company. What if the boys couldn’t handle the decibel level? What if they threw a fit as soon as we arrived. Did I really have the energy to face 15 sets of parent faces?
I shouldn’t have worried.
I should have given us more credit: we’re all much better at this. We take their lead, structure be damned. They don’t want to dance in a circle? Who cares. They’d rather take our hands and lead us around and around the house? Okay. The idea of sitting at a table to eat pizza is their idea of hell? Ours too.
And when a few moms looked at me while I tried to calm J., I just smiled and told them he was tired, while I watched their neurotypical kids have their own meltdowns.
Of course, we are nearing one year since we first heard the word “autism” ascribed to our sons — last February when they were just 18 months old. So as hard as life can sometimes be, there’s been a whole lot of growing going on.
And a whole lot of acceptance.