Autism: If Things Were Different
by Pam Mari
Today is my nephew's 16th birthday party. It's a surprise party. His Mom, my sister in law, has been working her tail off to make it extra special. She's a graphic artist. She designed the invitations and sent them via instagram. The party color scheme coordinates with the colors on the invitation. She is detail crazy and will drive herself to the brink of exhaustion to make sure every detail; food, games, music, pool toys and poolside seating are all creatively presented and arranged.
It's a rite of passage for her son and she wants it to be memorable for both him and his friends.
My son, his cousin, is 17. And has autism.
Were we invited? NO. Am I upset about it?
But, I can't help thinking if things were different how the day would go.
There are over 30 teenagers on the guest list. It will be loud. The music will be blasting. My son could not tolerate this sensory overload.
There will be girls singing along with the music. My son hates other people singing.
There will be kids jumping, diving and running around the pool. Swimming races. Pool basketball.
Pool noodle fights. Loud voices yelling "look out"!
Girls shrieking with excitement. Splashes in your face. Too much excitement and noise for my son.
30 kids and not one of them would have an idea in the least of how to interact with my son. That is not to say that they don't want to. They simply don't know how. You can't give a crash course in autism during a birthday party.
My son would probably end up smushed in a corner of the pool by himself trying to avoid all the excitement. I'd probably have to rush him into the bathroom after he got out of the pool as he doesnt' understand you just don't take off your trunks in front of other people, especially girls. Somewhere along the line I would, with 90% accuracy, predict a meltdown.
And the fact of the matter is, I just wouldn't want to go there. I wouldn't want my nephew to have to deal with this at his special party. I wouldn't want my son to have to endure this just to say he went.
But I can't help thinking if things were different.
"Hey", the voice on the phone says, " don't forget to tell Joey he has to come to Thomas' birthday party. He would want his cousin here."
We would pack up and make sure we were there on time and bring a present that my son would pick out because teens know what other teens like.
My son is a good looking kid much like his cousins. I'm sure the girls would want to hang with him. He's a good singer and would probably be singing along with the group to the blasting music.
"Hey Mom, I tried some of that spinach dip Aunt D made. I've never had it before. I like it. Can you make some for us at home?"
"I appreciate the chance to sit and relax" my sister in law says. "Where's Joey?" she asks. "Oh, I dunno he probably went for a walk with the other kids", "they will be fine, probably walked over to the shopping center to get some pizza".
"Mom, can I stay here and you go home?" "Aunt D is gonna make a bonfire and I want to stay until later". "Ok, text me when you are ready to come home", I reply.
On the way home my son tells me about one of the girls he met at the party. He says he might like to meet her at the mall and see a movie next week.
It was a good day for him and his cousin.
But instead, we will stay home. We will make peanut butter and banana sandwiches. None of which he will eat. We will watch the same video ten times during that day. I will try to avoid making loud noises or saying the wrong word or god forbid, singing. And my nephew, hopefully will have a great time and his stressed out Mom will see the fruits of all her labors give joy to her son.
But I can't help thinking - if things were different.