Since starting school three years ago, Neil has been to only two or three parties. He’s not often invited to any. Honestly, I’m not sure if the kids in his class don’t have parties, or if they just don’t invite him. The former is fine, the latter, well that’s heart breaking.
That’s always a worry of autism parents I think, that the other children in the class will purposely exclude your child because they think they are weird. I think it happens quite a lot, and it was even touched upon in the BBC’s recent drama ‘The A Word’, when all of the children in the class were invited to a party except the little boy with autism. It seemed to hit a nerve with a lot of parents, as my twitter feed was filled with people saying their children had experienced exclusion in the same way. I like to believe that the reason Neil doesn’t often receive invitations is just that no one is having birthday parties, but honestly, it’s hard to tell and I do often worry that he’s being left out.
When we do attend parties, Neil always insists I stay with him, and of course, I do. That doesn’t seem to be the done thing though. In fact, at every party we’ve been to, I’ve been the only parent to stay. Sometimes I worry that it makes him stick out like a sore thumb, because he’s the only child at the party who needs his mummy. I even have had one child ask me ‘do you never just drop Neil off at a party?’, to which Neil replied in a very matter of fact way ‘No, because I get scared on my own’. He’s so straight about it, and it really doesn’t seem to bother him, but I can’t help but feel a bit sad that he can’t enjoy a party in the same way the other kids can.
The truth is, I couldn’t leave him. Parties can be hard for Autistic children. The noises, the smells, the unpredictability, can all cause problems. Neil is a very anxious child, a small thing could trigger a lot of emotion, and only I could calm him. He also has a lot of sensory problems, like many other ASD children, and lots of kids running around making lots of noise can make him over stimulated, and ultimately send him in to meltdown. Not driving makes it hard, because it’s not easy to rush back to him if he has a meltdown, so really the only option is to stay.
Staying does have it’s drawbacks though, as it lets me hear snippets of conversation I’d rather not hear. Once, at a party at a local hall, I heard a young girl of 5 or 6 say to the birthday girl, ‘Ugh, you invited Neil?’ The same group of girls later complimented Neil on how handsome he looked later in the party. It broke my heart, and made me so angry at the same time. How could children that young be so mean? How could they have it in them at six years old to say mean things behind someones back, and then be so nice to their face. That’s probably the first time in my life I’ve ever felt like swearing at a group of children, and believe me, it took a lot of strength to hold my tongue. I suppose it’s a sad fact of life that not all of Neil’s peers will be completely accepting of him, despite him being a wonderful, bright funny little boy. They don’t see that, they just see his ASD traits and think he’s strange.
Last week was very exciting for Neil as he received not one, but three party invitations. Unfortunately we could only attend one of them, which took place at the weekend. Neil even picked out a new shirt and hat for the occasion. The party took place at the little girls house and as usual I stayed with him, as per his request. There was a bouncy castle, trampoline, party games, and lots of delicious food and Neil had such a fun time.
I watched through the window with a smile as he bounced gleefully with his other classmates. In that moment, you wouldn’t have known Neil was autistic, he was just like all of the other children enjoying the party. But the reality is, he is Autistic, and he can’t always enjoy the party in the same way others can. In a matter of seconds he can go from being content, to completely overwhelmed. It might get too noisy for him, or someone might have red sauce on their plate at the party food table, or someone might try to hug him, and when that happens, he needs me there to calm him down.
I suppose that’s where the differences become more apparent. He can’t enjoy a party the like the other children because he needs his mum there to supervise. Maybe that fact alone is stopping him from being invited to parties, ‘you can’t invite Neil, he brings him mum with him’. It’s a constant worry of mine that by staying with him, I’m helping to alienate him from his peers. But what is the alternative? Well, the alternative is that he wouldn’t go to the party, because without me he just wouldn’t go. Honestly, I’d rather he enjoyed himself for a couple of hours, even if people do things it’s a bit weird that Neil’s brought his mum. One day maybe he’ll feel he can stay without me, but until then I’ll always be the mum lurking in the background of the parties, as long as it makes him happy.