The boy who does not like birthdays
Last week was my youngest and autistic son, Henry's 8th birthday, and a few days later, my own 45+ something birthday. Henry's birthday is usually met with much apprehension on my part that then turns to sadness and me feeling really low towards the evening. But not this year folks, oh no. I somehow managed to keep my .... together and just be ok with it this year, I don't really know how? Henry, you see, does not like birthdays, and I suspect many autistic children are the same.
It's not so much the birthday but rather the unexpected; the change in routine; birthdays being on a different day each year (in Henry's case his mind will have been thinking 'why is this day now different from the same day last week?'), and the enormous amount of social interaction and reaction it demands. From constant engagement by others saying 'happy birthday' to being watched whilst looking at a card knowing a reaction is expected, to then opening gifts and again more interaction and reaction required. These are the things Henry finds the hardest to do and cope with.
I guess we learn a little with each year, adjust our expectations a little each year, accept Henry for who he is a little more each year, and understand that none of his behaviours on this meant-to-be-celebratory day can be helped by him.
But mummy cannot let the day go by un-marked, and she never, ever will. If all I get to do is inform Henry of his age and comment that it is his birthday, that's good with me. And we, his immediate family will commemorate it in some small token way, and Henry will notice and hopefully indulge us for a few brief moments.
Hek, one year he might actually not tear up his card and show some enthusiasm for his gifts...and you'd think by now I'd have learned to bake a cake also! The recipe said to poke holes in the top with a chopstick (something about letting the icing soak in) and that's what I did, I didn't stab at it wildly, honestly, I didn't!
So, the things that kept him at the table with us this year were the sweets. YES. Good one mummy. He loves these sour and supersensory love heart sweets.
Gifts. NO. Cake. NO. Card. NO. Thank goodness we didn't try candles and singing!
I tried to keep the wrapping paper all the same, and Henry likes or is attracted to stripes. Uh, NO. He wouldn't even touch it.
I know what Henry was thinking, something along the lines of '...now why would anyone wrap something up so that you can't tell what's inside and therefore have no idea what to expect...?'. In my defence though, placing un-wrapped items in front of him wouldn't have helped much either because as soon as his siblings had so kindly done so, he wanted them all to go away..."put it in the bin" he said. Almost one week on and he has yet to play with a single one. Good guesswork on what he might like Mummy...
But he will play with them, eventually, when all of the occasion and social pressure surrounding their arrival has been forgotten, when they are no longer 'new', he will fish them out.
The cake was dismissed and had to be returned to the kitchen and yet later on, when we had all returned to normal day mode, I spotted him looking at his card that he had torn up and also tucking into the cake on the kitchen counter!
What we are most proud of is that Henry did not cry or shout or kick out or refuse to join us, he simply did what he could not stop himself from doing in a very calm and matter of fact way (talk about adjusting expectations). Hurrah, say what? Sometimes, the tiniest of things mean so much in families living life with autism.
We kept the 'celebration' very low arousal that Henry appreciated and so we kind of met each other halfway, I guess. And everyone was okay.
Henry, you are now 8.
We love you.