I Celebrate the Birthday of My Son With Autism His Way, Not Mine


Presents and toys, birthday badges and party invites.

Balloons and banners, fancy dress outfits and homemade cakes.

Silly games of pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues, and “Who’s the best dancer?”

A hot sweaty house full of giddy kids high on fizzy pop and cup cakes.

Class friends having a ball as they fling themselves around on an oversized Minion bouncy castle.

And my son laughing and smiling in the middle of it all.

The playground moms huddled around a table, laughing and gossiping about the antics of the chair of the PTA at last week’s school dance.

Enjoying a glass of wine and picking at nibbles while declaring the diet starts tomorrow.

We air kiss as they leave and walk down the driveway and clamber into their family cars.

I collapse in a heap on the sofa happily content as I watch him delve into his pile of presents. Filled with a sense of relief he has enjoyed all the fuss and everyone had turned up.

This is what birthdays are all about for kids, aren’t they? We plan lavish events so we can boast about having the mobile zoo at the local church hall for our little kiddo’s special day.

Unwritten protocol states we have to invite the whole class to the party, even the ones we don’t really want to be there.

And then on the big day, we pack our kids off to school, wearing a flashing birthday badge and holding a bag of goodies for them to hand out at the end of the school day.

Well, at least this is what I used to think my son’s birthday would look like when I daydreamed about his future all those years ago.

In fact, 12 years ago this very day I was pacing the floor of the maternity ward waiting anxiously for the surgeon to give us the all clear to for my planned C-section.

I was 38 weeks pregnant, tired and hungry. But none of that mattered as we were hours away from meeting our little baby boy. I couldn’t wait to hold him in my arms, and my mind was full of all the possibilities that lay ahead.

Where have the years gone?  I, for one, am not the same person I was back then. And my little baby boy is now 12.

I quickly learned as my son was growing up that birthdays for him wouldn’t look like the images I had created in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. For many years, I forced him to conform to my idea of what his birthday should look like. I booked the church halls, invited the class and made the cakes.

But my son would cry, he wouldn’t want to join in and he wouldn’t want to open his presents. Then the invitations stopped coming his way, and the moms in the playground didn’t become the friends I had once expected they would.

We had become the ones who weren’t invited, and those that did try to invite us didn’t know what to say to me when I had to make excuses for him not being able to go. When I would ask for the exact itinerary of the afternoon’s events or when he would get upset and cry in front of all his friends, they would look at me with a puzzled sort of confusion that I will never forget.

But I have adapted. I have had to learn that my idea of a perfect birthday isn’t the same as my son’s.

So there may not have been a cake in sight today or a donkey pinned on my living room wall for that matter. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a nice day! He ate his favorite food with his tea with one of his closest friends, played on his PS4 and devoured a whole chocolate brownie with delight.

There was no flashing birthday badge pinned to his school jumper or treat-sized chocolates for his classmates this morning. But that’s OK! He woke up and his smile melted my heart. He enjoyed his birthday croissants and a cup of tea while reading the texts from his family, giggling at the lovely messages they had sent him.

There was no giant bouncy castle or dainty cupcakes today. But I’m OK with that because he was. He has bounced on his trampoline, snuggled in his new sleeping bag and brushed the salty popcorn out of his teeth with his new vibrating toothbrush (for longer than he’s ever brushed his teeth before — bonus!)

I have to be honest with you: The process of learning to accept this difference hasn’t been an easy one. Sometimes I think, “If only,” but then I see his happy face and get such joy from seeing him flapping with excitement as he slides into his new sleeping bag — and those feelings slip away to be replaced with all-consuming pride. His joy of life is infectious at times like this.

So now I find myself giggling at the things I wrap up as presents sometimes — ice pops, popcorn and shaving foam spring to mind. But it’s what my son loves. It what makes him tick, so why not?

And part of my journey as a mother is learning my son’s journey is his own. It’s not mine. I am merely along for the ride. It’s his day, not mine.

So this weekend instead of booking a mobile zoo for the whole class, I’m taking my little man to his favorite zoo for the day, so he can spend nine hours doing what he loves surrounded by his favorite animals — free, happy, flapping and loving life!

Happy birthday, darling boy!

Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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