Sunday, November 30, 2008

When Autism Goes Partying

Someone could write a whole, heavy, long, book about handling autism at parties. 

Someone SHOULD. It could be funny, sad, poignant, and educational. 

You, you should do it. You, the organized one? Compile the stories from so many of us who know all too well about the joys and hazards of parties, edit out any objectionable language, make sure not to make it seem like we're stereotyping or saying that our kids ARE autism, and make sure people with NT families learn something, gain some understanding. Make sure people get their "I laughed, I cried" money's worth, too. Give it an intriguing title. Publish it with or some such online tool. We'll all schpiel it on our blogs, you can make millions, and then donate the proceeds to UNICEF or something. 

I digress. 

We went to a party this weekend. Whoa, the opportunities for reflection. For us, going to a party doesn't ever just happen. We plan as if headed overseas. Doesn't matter, though; surprises are in store. 

So, this time we headed to the first birthday party of an adorable little boy in childcare with Peaches. His mother and I work together. She knows the rooster well, and asked how she could make things go smoothly for him. I LOVE HER. I brought her a stash of gfcf candy for her to use in his goody bag, and she assured me she planned to stock the kids' table with fruits and juice boxes my boy could enjoy. I packed my own bag of treats, too, of course, and baked gfcf brownies in case we did not manage our escape prior to cake. 

We drove to the birthday boy's grandmother's home, quite a distance from our own, extra early in hopes of managing naps en route. Peaches collapsed, but Rooster asked over and over, "Are we there yet? Tell me when. Now? Tell me when." 

An adorable little puppy greeted us. With a child allergic to everything including air, we've had surprisingly few physical reactions to dogs, but behavioral reactions make up for that. Squealing, lots of squealing, from both boy and canine. 

Of course, we knew several of the guests, other teachers from school and their kids. But, this was no small affair. I mean, these people know how to throw a bash -- complete with a deejay, chafing dishes full of delicious food, a pirate theme to the nth degree, organized games, and tons of people -- alllll kinds of people. 

I am not sure how many times the rooster covered his ears and asked to go home, but for each of those times, he subsequently asked to stay and play more. We paid careful attention to his cues and I think we managed to leave at the right time for him, but we also stayed almost two full and mostly successful hours. 

At one point, my sweet husband watched the rooster play while I watched Peaches. Later, my husband, J, commented how he felt a tug seeing our boy walk up to children and shove a toy in their faces, not knowing how to appropriately initiate. Then, he looked over to see a severely disabled girl, probably more of a young woman than a girl, really, being held and kissed and fed by her parents. This girl could not communicate. My husband felt all kinds of tugs then, and a longing to know the best way to reach out to her parents. 

When the rooster approached familiar kids, they gave him latitude. Probably their parents have helped them understand our boy better. We gave rooster some scripts to try to help him approach new kids at the party, and it helped some, too. Suddenly a sweet blonde child in an adorable skirt didn't bother to wait for his approach. She immediately wanted to play with the rooster! He struggled a little in the beginning, and whether I should have or not, I found myself saying to her, "He just sometimes can't quite find the right words he wants to say, but he's trying to play with you, so if you want to play with him, that's great." Neither the rooster nor this darling and highly verbal girl, E, seemed to mind my little coaching. She showed him to the pirate mast where they could poke their heads through and have their photos taken. She asked him to -- can you believe this? -- dance! They danced! Neither of them yet five years old, they had some serious moves! They all but held hands! When the rooster freaked out over the little puppy in front of E, she calmly told her about her own dog. He listened. He responded. Appropriately. Together they moved away from the puppy. They volleyed like conversation never stood in the rooster's way before... for a few minutes. When words failed him, he gazed at her adoringly. I did, too. I practically offered her folks a dowry. 

Then, they started the balloon game. I think I've written before that the rooster obsesses about balloons, and that we used to have to read him Jamie Lee Curtis' book on the subject (Where Do Balloons Go When You Let Them Go Free) about 20 times each day. If he sees a balloon, he wants it. If he gets it, he wants to set it free. Then, he wants it again. 

Ah, autism. When it goes partying, things get interesting. 

So every child received a balloon, followed by some horrifying instructions to pop other people's balloons, and I didn't catch the rest of the details because it was too late. E popped the rooster's balloon, literally, metaphorically, completely. I think "bereft" describes his reaction. She, for her part, had no idea why he reacted as he did. She sought and received confirmation that she did just as she had been instructed. So of course she felt confused; darling E didn't see the rooster's autism, so his reaction puzzled her. Clearly she wanted to make amends for upsetting him even though she had done nothing wrong, so she reached in her pocket and pulled out the M&Ms she'd squirreled away, and held them out to him. To which, of course, I had to intervene and explain he has "allergies."

On the way home, we all munched on gfcf brownies and celebrated the successes of the evening. We all enjoyed ourselves for a while, we let our guard down some, we left on decent terms with everyone. The rooster and E made their peace, if not reconciled completely. And at least we didn't have to shell out for a dowry. 

I haven't had as much fun at a party in five years. 


Niksmom said...

Don't give up on that dowry just yet! WOW! Sounds like a pretty amazing experience. And about time the universe handed you some good. Must be the result of sleeping in that new bed, huh? ;-) Rest does a body (and soul!) good. :-)

Anonymous said...

You want me to write a BOOK???!!!!!! Are you KIDDING me? ;) I'll get write (get it, "write?") on that, my dear. Call the publishers.

I'm glad you had a mostly successful bday party, too! YAY rooster!

redheadmomma said...

I've missed you! :)

I swear, parties. *shakes head* that was SO great that the mom asked what she could do to make this successful for the rooster - that's so wenderful! And it sounds like the rooster did GREAT! The balloon thing sounds like it's the perfect thing for you to ask about next time there's a party - then you could skedaddle while the going's good. Sounds like it had a very high degree of success - I'm proud of all of you! :)

pixiemama said...

Parties. Just the thought of taking Foster to a party causes my posture to immediately change into a "slump." J's family is big, and my mom's family is pretty large. We consider getting together with either to be enough "party" for us. Even in these situations, where Foster is fairly familiar with the place and the people, things always seem too difficult. I swear, I have considered asking his TSS to accompany us to family gatherings, except, well, I like the TSS and I would hate to scare him off.

Good for Rooster and the good party. And seriously - there's no way to prep for everything that could go wrong. The balloon thing could have set off any kid. My kids ALL think balloons are highly treasured. Any of them would have found that game offensive... but how would a parent of children who think popping balloons is fun even know that?