Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where a Kid (with autism) can be a Kid

So Kodak moment parenting was in full effect about a month ago late at night when I got the brilliant idea that we should have a birthday party for Caden. You know a real birthday party where we invited other kids and had games and cake.  Great idea part 2 was when I decided it should be at Chuck E Cheese because Ryley had her 5th birthday party there and still talks about how much fun it was.  Not to mention I figured that Chuck E Cheese was the best way I could think of to ensure that kids would want to come and that their parents would want to bring them because it saves them an often dreaded trip to well Chuck E Cheese…the place where a kid can be a kid and adults would rather not enter.

Now let’s realistically break down this idea and the potential problems. First there is the fact that it is sensory overload world and for a child with autism and sensory processing disorder all of the high pitch sounds and flashing lights not to mention 7 foot tall mice who sing the dreaded Happy Birthday Song this is almost a guaranteed meltdown.  Then there’s the fact that on a Sunday afternoon the place is usually packed and Caden has only been at Chuck E Cheese once and it was several years ago.  Add in the birthday boy crown and a hostess who may or may not understand autism and this is a recipe for disaster.

Honestly as we left home today about 12:40 my stomach was in knots.  I hadn’t told Caden who had rsvp’d so that any no shows or unexpected arrivals wouldn’t throw him.  I still had no idea how he would react and it was making me more than nervous. I also realized that it was the first time since August 3rd that we were going someplace without Elf. As much as I would have liked to take him, it just didn’t seem like the best environment for him and so we decided to spare him the trip and allowed him some R&R time at home in his kennel.  He went happily into his kennel but honestly for Dan and me it felt a little like the first time we left one of the kids with a babysitter.  We got into the car but it just felt wrong driving down the road without Elf in the backseat.

Unlike most of my Kodak moment parenting stories, this one actually turned out pretty well. Caden loved the tokens, games, and tickets concept.  The kids pretty much got their tokens and headed their own ways to play games so there was little social interaction to worry about.  Ryley and one of her friends knew all of the younger kids there since they are all in the same school and helped us make sure everyone was playing and having fun.  The time at the table was less successful as Caden still doesn’t like the Birthday song and likes Chuck E the mouse more on television than he does in real life but he handled it by sitting on his daddy’s lap---no tears, screams for help, or hiding under the table. No public proclamations of bathroom activities and no clothing removed.  All in all I’m proclaiming a success and Caden is just so thrilled that his friends were there and that he had a birthday party. 

I did notice something else today though. I have always thought of putting my make up on sort of as my way of preparing for the world, even maybe a form of war paint.  I just realized though that I put on one of my autism shirts without even thinking about it. I suppose subconsciously it was my way of reminding the kids’ parents that Caden has autism as well as anyone else that might look our way.  Looking back on our pictures from 4 Paws training I noticed that I wore an autism shirt for our first day of training and our first public trip to the Mall with Elf. Maybe it’s my way of handling the stares or trying to avoid the rude comments that inevitably come with the territory of autism.  I’m always amazed at how opinionated people are when it comes to a child acting differently in public and how people always seem to assume the worse. I’m not going to win any parenting contests or receive sainthood any time in the near future but I can fairly confidently say that having a child with autism has greatly increased my tolerance of children’s behaviors in public because I’m always wondering if there might be a neurological, mental, or physical condition that I can’t see.  Honestly what I have found is that it doesn’t take any more energy on my part to give children the benefit of the doubt than it does to pass judgment. I get asked sometimes why I share so much about our family on a public blog. I guess I want to believe that discrimination occurs because people naturally fear the unknown and maybe by sharing our daily lives with others, it’ll take some of the unknown away and make it a little easier for others to stop and think twice before they pass judgment.