Sunday, July 24, 2011

Birthday Dinner With Autism

This year for her birthday my daughter asked to go to her favorite sit down restaurant with a few of her friends. We were allowed to tag along (you know to pay the bill and handle any problems) but we had to sit at another table. I have to admit I was a little heartbroken because I’ve enjoyed planning theme parties for the last 10 years and the fact she is growing up so quickly is a little hard to handle. She picked her restaurant and after a lot of phone tag she arranged with 3 of her friends a time and date to go to Applebees. 

I woke up today though with a sick knot in my stomach. Interestingly it wasn’t over the fact my baby girl is growing up (heck it’s an early birthday party so she’s technically 10 for a few weeks longer), but the fact that we would be taking Caden to a sit down restaurant on a Sunday afternoon. So many possible problems here: 1) the girls want to sit at a table by themselves; he adores his sister and her friends and inevitably will want to sit with them 2) it’s a sit down restaurant requiring a sit down meal; we don’t even eat in at McDonalds because Caden likes to eat and run 3) we are going on a Sunday late afternoon and I’m willing to bet there will be (gulp) other people in the restaurant. All in all this is just an autism recipe for disaster.

Before you argue that any of these [potential] meltdowns are typical 4 year old little brother behavior let me just say that I agree that they will all start as typical 4 year old little brother behavior. The thing about autism is that’s how meltdowns usually begin for us; we are having a typical moment that upsets him and honestly would upset most other 4 year olds. The problem is that for most 4 year olds they would get upset and then either get over it or you’d be able to distract them. 4 year olds with autism get upset and then get more upset and even more upset. Their world spirals and their brains tune out everyone and everything else but that thing that is upsetting them. They can’t be distracted and they can’t get over it. Lately, Caden has begun noticing when he can’t stop himself, and a few times has asked us for help in stopping. That’s huge but it doesn’t happen often. This is one of those areas that we are really hoping the service dog, I mean ELF, can help us with behavior disruption (wow, can I just say how much fun it is to have a name to associate with the dream we have had for the last 2 years???)

Let me be perfectly clear, I know how difficult public life and interactions are for Caden and I know how hard he works every day. I can’t and won’t ever be embarrassed by him or his behaviors. However, I also remember (vaguely) what it is like to be a kid and not want to be embarrassed by your family. Ryley and her friends are awesome with Caden, but at the same time I’m sure Ryley gets tired of hearing “don’t forget you are modeling appropriate behavior for Caden,” and “you know he can’t help it, it is an autism moment.” This is her birthday request--she doesn’t deserve to share her moment with autism. 

I think we often remember how hard it is as parents to manage autism, and I know we remember how hard it is for Caden every day. We are never at a loss for compliments for him because we want him to know that we understand how hard he is working. Unfortunately, I think we all forget sometimes how hard it is to be the neurotypical sibling of someone with autism. Yeah, I know she’s learning compassion and tolerance, but it’s not fair that she has to live that lesson 24/7. 

Fast forward. The friends have been returned home and both kids are asleep. The meal turned out really well although the girls did temporarily forget they were big kids now and asked me to help them figure out menus (YAY MOMMY IS STILL NEEDED). They sat at a booth beside us and while Caden initially got upset over not being able to stay with the girls, he kept himself amused with my Ipod touch. The girls sang happy birthday to Ryley and embarrassed the heck out of her. If she thought that was embarrassing, it is a good thing she didn’t hear her brother say Hey I’ve got to poopsie really quick!

We have a new autism awareness page on Facebook: Caden's Autism Heroes. Please "like" us on facebook and share with others.