This post is generously submitted for the 2011 All About Autism Series ~ by SherriPizza:
I don’t blog and this is my first attempt at a guest blog post. While it may make me sound like a whiny mommy, it’s really an attempt to describe why certain settings are so difficult for my son and me, or how he behaves differently from what’s socially acceptable, what’s considered the norm.
My five year old son has Autism. He is verbal but is very speech delayed, has difficulties with communication, interaction, socialization and attention, has fine and gross motor skills delays, and has sensory processing disorder. He is also an adorable, sweet little boy who loves food, music, watching Sesame Street and Finding Nemo, giving hugs, and me.
Whenever I take my son to a children’s birthday party – whether for a neurotypical child or a special needs child – I am first of all grateful that we were invited at all. My son needs to be prompted in order to greet anyone at the party, and to wish a Happy Birthday to the celebrating child. So I start out by doing just that. But then…
My son does not play interactively with any of the children at the party, nor does he even imitate them and their play. When all the other children participate in an arts and crafts activity, my son has no interest in participating. He runs around aimlessly, or sits on the floor and lines up toy cars and counts them. At a few birthday and holiday parties we attended, even children his age who are also on the autism spectrum sat quietly and did the arts and crafts project, but my son would not, and I could not even get him to do it “hand over hand” with me. He bolts. My heart sinks as other parents stare at us, and at my ill-fated attempts to try to incorporate him into the group activity and encourage him to participate in it.
My son is only interested in the food. At children’s parties we’ve attended – whether for neurotypical (NT) or special needs (SN) children – and similarly, at concerts for special needs children or religious services for special needs kids that we’ve attended, the snacks are all laid out on a large table: platters of fruit, cheese and crackers, bowls of pretzels or popcorn, cookies, and sometimes even cake. All my son ever wants to do at the party (or concert, or synagogue) is eat the snacks. My son is not fat at all, in fact he is tall for his age and slim, but he is simply much more interested in the food than in the other children, or in the arts & crafts projects, or in any games the other children are playing. All he does, whenever I try to redirect him towards other children or towards an activity, is run towards the food. I have to hold his hand most of the time, and keep him away from the food. I get plenty of food for him and try to keep him sitting calmly and quietly while eating it neatly. But no matter how much food I give him, he wants more. It is because he is very visual: the food is right there in front of him. He sees it. If I am not holding his hand, he bolts, runs off, touches all the food on the table and touches all the food on strangers’ plates… So it’s a whole lot of fun for me… Apologizing as people stare or remark about my son touching their food… His preschool teachers (special education school, autism class) have tried to teach him not to grab other people’s food, as have I, but it has not quite sunk in yet…
So as the other mothers at the birthday party all stand together, on the side, chatting about various topics, watching their kids (neurotypical or special needs) from afar, I spend the entire time by my son’s side, trying to keep him away from other kids’ plates and from adults’ plates, trying to keep him from grabbing the food on the table, giving him food in semi-moderation, trying to prompt him to interact with others, sitting with him as he “plays” with toys (counts them, really — he counts the cars or blocks, he doesn’t actually “play” with them).
To top it off, if I actually were able to step away from my son for a split second at any of these kiddie parties or events – which I really cannot (and as a divorced single mother of a boy who has autism and whose father lives halfway across the country I’m the only one with him at these parties and events) – I’d feel uncomfortable with the other mothers anyway, as I often overhear them speaking of the expensive private schools for kids with autism to which they will be sending their children next year, and to which I cannot afford to send my son… Some even say aloud that parents who send their kids to the public schools are not good parents, while that is all that I can afford…
But at one recent party, a father of another little boy noted that my son, like his, had no interest in the arts & crafts activity. I jokingly told him that my son prefers the food. He said with a smile: “like most guys!” and I quipped, “Well, like his mommy – he likes food, music, and watching the Yankees.” The dad said: “Two out of three ain’t bad.” So I asked: “Mets fan? Sorry…” – but I digress….
It is incredibly important for me to take my son to children’s birthday and holiday parties, to concerts and other events for children, be it with neurotypical children, other special needs children, or a mix. After all, we are alone much of the time and going to the playground just the two of us is fine but will never teach my son how to socialize with others and function in society. But each time I take him to a kiddie party, whether with NT or with SN kids, I feel like we are so isolated, like my son functions so much less than the other children there, like my son is interested in nothing else but the cookies, fruit, pizza, cake etc., and like everyone is staring at us… It is exhausting for me to spend the whole time keeping him from touching strangers’ plates; other children get very, very upset when he does touch their food, when I am not fast enough to prevent it…
Yet we keep going – at least when invited – and I wind up near tears every time. (I should also mention that several old friends with neurotypical children have stopped inviting us altogether, so that nowadays only a few do, and most invitations come from other parents of special needs children.)
I insist on trying to take my son to children’s birthday and holiday parties, concerts for special needs children, religious services for special needs children, and even at those events geared especially for us, everything is such a struggle, everything is exhausting, so that I find myself relieved when we come back home and I turn on the TV to relax and watch some sports. Then, of course, I wind up near tears again, as my son stims while watching Sesame Street, as my son rocks back & forth and mutters to himself and counts to ten or backwards from ten, as I see how difficult it is for my son to engage with the world around him… But I keep trying to engage him… I hug him, we sing songs together (music speaks to him and he loves many rock songs I’ve played for him), I tickle him and my tears turn to laughter.
SherriPizza resides in New York City and is a divorced, single mother of a 5 year old boy who has autism. Without her own blog, without having written before, SherriPizza has given time and thought to giving you a glimpse into the challenges both she and her son face with Autism. For that, I am humbled and honored. Thank you SherriP. You can follow her on Twitter as @SherriPizza.
Well, this kind of sounds like birthday parties I attend. Or rather….used to attend. How about you? Have you had a similar experience?