There was a flutter of excitement in the house when the invitation was posted through the door.
It would be a chance to wear our party clothes, play games, eat party food and head home with a prized party bag. This is what childhood is about - a few hours where the day-to-day rules are relaxed, when you can have your fill of fun and cake! Plus, I would have the chance to catch up with everyone on the street as it has been a few months since we all met up together.
I was disappointed that our son was not invited but I was OK with as he is much older than your daughter and I guessed that you were just inviting the children who were a similar age. Plus it would be a lovely chance for our daughter, who is so shy, to make friends with some of the other girls on our street.
As we left the house, our son asked where we were going and wanted to know why he couldn't come. I had to lie to him. I told him that his sister had been asked to go on a play date. I know I shouldn't lie to my kids, but I knew how upset he would be if he knew the truth. He wouldn't be as understanding I was about why our daughter was invited, and not him.
Walking into the house, the sound of laughter floated through the air and I could see how much effort you had put into arranging the perfect day for your little angel. The children were so happy, running around without a care in the world. Every child from our part of the street was there.
Everyone but our son. Our son who was sitting at home with the childminder. Our son who wanted to know why he couldn't go to your house with his sister, who hasn't been invited to a party herself in almost two years. The reality and emotions hit me with full force, I asked the other mums to keep an eye on our daughter whilst I quickly popped back home to collect something.
What I needed to collect was my composure - I didn't want to make a scene in the middle of the party and I didn't want to drag our daughter away from the fun she was having. I barely held on till I made it out the front door, by the time I got back to my house I was sobbing so hard I battled to breathe. The pain around my heart was almost crippling as I cried for our son and the many times he has missed out.
I know his autism has meant that we struggled in the past and that he isn't always the easiest in social situations, but we continue to try work with him to show him how to behave in these situations. You know that he is coping so much better than he did last year. He so wants to make friends and join in the fun - he just doesn't know how to. What better opportunity than amongst our neighbours who know what we have struggled with and have always said they are there for us.
My mind had only one question - WHY?
Why couldn't you have included him? Why didn't you talk to me about any concerns you had? Why did you invite our daughter when you weren't inviting our son? Why couldn't you anticipate how leaving him out would make us feel?
We have faced so many struggles with school and finding our way to help our son with the many challenges that autism has added to his life. This was a challenge I didn't expect we would need to face - not being included by the people around us.
I wish I was more courageous and that I knew what to say to you so that you could understand how much son being included would have meant to us. I hope that in years to come you will figure it out for yourself, as I know I will never have the words to tell you myself. Next year I hope that you will consider son's name when writing up your guest list.
I have so much empathy with this guest post and I'm honoured to share it with my readers. We have experienced something similar many times. There are a few things that may help an autistic child at birthday parties.
- Giving the family plenty of notice when possible allows them to prepare the child for the event. For many children with autism simply knowing what is going to happen will help them relax and have a good time too.
- Letting the family know what's planned to happen at the party; what will happen first, will there be a cake, what games are you hoping to play, will there be music? This can help with planning and spot anything that they might need to prepare for in particular.
- It can also help to know who or how many people are going. Again, this helps an autistic child understand what's going to happen and this can make them feel safe and comfortable.
- We also love it when people say 'You can stay for just the parts you like' or 'There is another room you can sit in when you need to'. This means we can scoot out if things become overwhelming.
These are just a few things that we have found help us. If you have any questions about inviting a child with autism to a party, please do not hesitate to get in touch... or even better just ask their parents. I'm sure they would be delighted to talk about it. If you are the parent of an autistic child - please feel free to add tips for birthday parties in the comments too.
If you have a story you would like me to share on your behalf, please do not hesitate to contact me.