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When I Try to Help My Son on the Autism Spectrum Understand His Birthday

birthday candle and balloon Today is your birthday! We are celebrating you! It’s hard to believe you’re turning 5. But to you it’s just like any other day. That’s because abstracts are hard for you to understand. So I buy you a pin that says “Birthday Boy” and hope you will wear it. Maybe it will help make more sense to you that it’s your special day.

We get 12 cupcakes for you and your friends at school, but you’d rather have nothing. That’s what you said when I asked you which ones you would like while we were picking them up at the store. You replied, “Nothing,” which is your way of saying “none.” And while I’m standing there trying to decide which ones you’d like, you’re giggling and laughing at this balloon you’ve got that you snuck off the table at an Operation Christmas Child “packing party” at church. And in the midst of all this fuss of trying to get you to understand your big day, I stop for a moment, seeing your excitement over this balloon. Because right now nothing else matters to you but that big ole red balloon.

young boy playing with a red balloon And maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand – who just doesn’t get it. I’m the one who needs to learn that “big moments” aren’t found in trying to make things grand, but in the simple things that make up life. Like an over-sized red balloon that makes funny sounds and flies around the room because you let the air out of it after we’ve blown it up for the one thousandth time. For you, that’s where the “big moments” are found.

Maybe all you need is a little more time – or maybe you’ll never quite understand. But it really doesn’t matter, because you celebrate every day. For you, ordinary things come to life because you’ve discovered the amazing hidden in the simple. And so, while we are trying to teach you that your day is special, you are teaching us that every day is to be celebrated. Because every day is made special by the joys you find in the simple. And every day with you is a gift, not just the day you were born.   

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