The Stories I Weave Into the Birthday Cakes of My Son on the Autism Spectrum
I like to bake cakes for my son Vedant instead of buying them because it’s more personal. It took me a few years to get a grip on baking, decorating and understanding my son. But when I finally did, this became something I really look forward to. I get to share stories about his life through his birthday cakes.
For the first two years of his life, I was too enthusiastic to do everything over the top, so we’d order a huge cake for his birthday and throw a party, inviting a ton of guests. This was before his diagnosis.
Very close to his 3rd birthday, my mom passed away, so that year was a somber one.
It started with his 4th birthday. By this time, we knew he was on the autism spectrum. His diagnosis changed our perspective so much, and for the better. We were more in-tune with his likes and dislikes and respected them now more than ever. That year he was into trains. We had all kinds of trains in our house — Thomas trains, locomotives, battery-operated, pull-backs, plastic ones, die casts — you name it. We had train videos running in loop on our laptops, TVs and his tablet. The center of our living room had a train table instead of a coffee table, and we went to every single train display in town. His obsession with trains brought out so much in him. He could engage himself appropriately, play with a toy and sometimes have fun trying new things with his new hobby. He would talk to the train, saying “goodbye,” “come back,” “go home train” and more. So, that year was a no-brainer. His cake had to be a train.
As he entered his fifth year and was ready for school, we were trying to teach him some basic academics. This was the year we began teaching him colors. There were color swatches all over our walls. His Hot Wheels cars came in all colors. Every morning we’d ask him to choose whether he wanted to wear his red, yellow or blue shirt. A walk down the parking lot ended up in a Q&A of car colors. It was about colors everywhere we went so it only made sense that his cake was all about colors, too.
In May 2014, we got the annual pass for a theme park in our city. Vedant soon fell in love with that place. We have wonderful memories of our days at the park. He loved the thrill rides, going up and rushing down, spinning around in a carousel, or being dropped from a height. He enjoyed every bit of that place. I owe a lot to this park. It helped him on his road to getting independent.
Although we had the “special needs” pass for preferred boarding on rides, as much as we could, we stood in line and taught him to wait for his turn. He’d often get impatient, but eventually he learned to wait. This was wonderful because he could use this skill in many other places. As he got used to the routine of waiting in line and getting on the rides, we started letting him go on his own on rides where he was allowed to. In his excitement, he wouldn’t notice we were not next to him. As much as it made him independent, it gave us the confidence that it’s OK to let him be on his own. Given his love for this theme park, there was no way I could make anything else for his birthday. It was a difficult cake for someone like me with no background in cake-baking or decoration, but we got a smile on his face with it.
Vedant has feeding issues. He still has a hard time chewing solids and tends to throw up easily. Consequently, food and Vedant don’t get along so well. For good or for bad, cookies, candies and pizzas have never been a motivator. This has been a challenge for us, and we worked on it. Then Vedant showed interest in ice cream. Several times during the day, he’d come to me and ask for ice cream. I decided to hand him a bowl and let him eat on his own. I’ve seen him evolve from a messy eater to someone who can clean up a bowl of ice cream within minutes. This love for ice cream has really improved his self-help skills when it comes to eating. He also discovered chocolates around this time, and very soon I was hearing more and more requests for chocolate. So, a chocolate- and ice-cream-themed cake it was.
Vedant is primarily nonverbal and a lot of what he speaks can be hard to understand. For the past several years we’ve been trying different ways to teach him to communicate. We started with the traditional speech therapy, hoping he’d catch up with a little help. When we realized it was time to switch gears and try other things, we introduced the picture exchange communication system (PECS). Vendant did not seem to get it. By now, iPad apps for communication were getting popular, and at school, he was introduced to the TouchChat app. He is now using it more and more to communicate what he wants. Simultaneously, he got hooked on a few other apps on his iPad. The iPad symbolized a progress in his cognitive skills. He also had more control over his motor skills and an improving attention span. An iPad cake would be a befitting symbol of this progress.
Sometimes the little things we do say so much about our lives. These are the stories I weave into the birthday cakes of my son on the autism spectrum.
Our son is the joy in our tears, the love in our worries, and the hope in our fears. He is what makes standing up and going forward every day possible. So as we navigate challenges, I don’t want to forget to celebrate the little victories, too. And what better way to celebrate than a piece of cake!
Follow this journey on Tulika’s blog.
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