What Attending a Birthday Party Is Like When Your Son Has Autism


Two kids, Aiden and Davey, have been invited to a fifth birthday party for their friend at a local play gym. Both boys have known the birthday boy since they were born. The mothers have all been close friends since being pregnant together. When the boys were babies, the mothers and children saw each other several times a week through constant play dates, birthday parties and mom’s nights out.

But as time passes, they start to see each other less and less frequently. Davey has been diagnosed with mild autism and Aiden is a bright, typical child. The kids go to different schools. Davey in a special education inclusion class at the public school. With sports for Aiden and twice weekly occupational therapy for Davey, playdates have become harder and harder to arrange.

The moms still feel close, but by the time the boys are 5, it seems like the only time they see each other is at group birthday parties. Aiden arrives at the play gym. He runs into the room, grabs another boy’s hand and races off.

Minutes later, Davey and his mom, Joan, arrive. Joan leads Davey over to where the other kids are lining up on a mat for their activity. She smiles at the moms who have much younger children clinging to them and looks longingly at Tammy and the other moms.

“Davey, can you play with your friends? It’s trampoline, your favorite.” Davey nods bravely and sits next to Aiden. “That’s my good boy.” But as soon as Joan starts to move toward the group of moms, Davey bursts into tears.

“Mommy, I want to play with you!”

Giving one last look toward the other moms, Joan drops down behind the line of kids with a hand on Davey’s shoulder. As each kid takes his or her turn on the trampoline, Davey and Joan cheer loudly for them. When it is Davey’s turn, he jumps and jumps with a huge smile on his face. Then he returns to sit with Joan.

“Look honey,” Joan says. “It’s Charlie! Why don’t you go play with him?”

Davey glances briefly at Charlie and shakes his head. “I want to go on the trampoline again.”

“Trampoline time is over for now Davey. But Aiden and Charlie are climbing a ladder over there. Doesn’t it look like fun?”

“No, I don’t want to.”

Just then, one of the “coaches” walks over and entices Davey to try an obstacle course. Out of the corner of her eye, Joan watches Davey’s progress and slides toward her friends. Davey seems engaged with the teenage coach, so Joan takes a minute to greet her friends warmly.

“I didn’t even see you here! How’s Davey doing in his new school?” Tammy asks.

“He’s really happy there and his teachers are great! How is Aiden doing?”

After about 5 minutes of happy chit chat, Joan looks up to see Davey sitting by himself in the middle of the room playing with his socks. He looks content and oblivious as kids he’s known since he was a baby race by on all sides.

Joan is torn. Davey looks fine, but she knows it’s important for him to interact with his neurotypical peers and there aren’t so many opportunities.

After a few minutes, Joan politely turns away from her conversation and walks toward Davey. On the way, she taps Aiden on the shoulder and says, “Aiden, can you go play with Davey?” Aiden grins and runs to his friend.

“Come on Davey, let’s play!” Aiden says, tugging Davey up even though Davey is much bigger than he is. Davey smiles happily at Aiden and then runs off in the opposite direction.

Still watching, Joan meanders back to the group of moms. But she is not really paying any attention to what they are saying. Finially, giving up, she helps guide Davey through an obstacle course, prompting him the whole time.

“Davey, climb over the bridge. That’s it…” She loves playing with her son, but sometimes she gets lonely for her friends.

At the end of the party, the kids all sit down for pizza. Davey sits politely and eats while the other kids run all around. Then suddenly Aiden sits down next to his friend and asks him about Davey’s favorite subject, Thomas the train. Davey starts smiling and talking animatedly about trains. Aiden takes Davey’s hand and they start to play with a small car on the table.

Joan smiles and the tension leaves her body all at once. Tammy walks over and says, “Fun party. I’m glad Davey’s doing so well. Let’s set up a playdate soon.”

And all is right with the world.

The names is this piece have been changed at the blogger’s request. 

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