Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Celebrating a birthday, funky style

Soren's fifth birthday is coming up, and I'm about to send out save-the-date emails to family members. This year, I'm hoping to craft a day that is meaningful to both Soren and us, even though that will look different from the typical fifth birthday celebration. For example, I'm asking for no gifts. Really and firmly. They just don't make sense for Soren, and it makes for awkwardness for the parents and giftgivers. Instead, I'll be asking for cards or donations to our local Autism Center.

Soren and Uncle Jason at his second birthday. Love those chubby little piggies!

Fourth birthday with pizza (crust first, naturally).

The prep work has me thinking about what I'd like others to know about how to "do" birthdays for a special child. Here are some tips:
  • Ask about gifts ahead of time. Toys are tricky--some kids like ours don't really play with toys or play obsessively with only a few kinds of them, and the developmental level of toys enjoyed may be lower or higher than you'd expect. But some parents may need specific items for therapy, like puzzles or stickers, or clothes.
  • Come to a party or gathering with no expectations. Join us on our zen autism journey of just letting things unfold. Don't expect participation in blowing out candles, posing for pictures, or any opening of gifts. If our boy spends his birthday mostly watching the Cars movie or climbing trees, or if we end things early, let that be okay, because it certainly is okay with the birthday boy and us. 
  • Remember that our kids may not understand the whole concept and importance of birthdays. 
  • Birthday gatherings are sensory experiences: lots of people, lots of activity, probably new and different food, like birthday cake, and lots of attention. This can be really overwhelming for some kids like ours, and they may need to take a break in a separate room or by watching a movie on the iPad. This isn't rude; it's what we have to do to help our kids regulate.
  • Even though we do the birthday thing differently, the parents of special needs kids still love it that you adore and celebrate our child. We'd love it if you could ask us what's special to our kid and how he can best feel love on his special day. For Soren, for example, it's wrestling, chasing, and tickling. It's unorthodox, but that's how you can relate to him, way more than with a cool new Lego set.
  • Birthdays are emotional and bittersweet for the parents of special needs kids. They remind us how our kids are different, and how advancing age means a greater gulf between our kids and your typical kids. Help us by celebrating how much you appreciate our child's strengths, not what he can or can't do. Don't ask us how speech is progressing (it isn't) or how well toilet training is going (it's not even on our radar); ask us how Soren likes swimming with Daddy or what he loves to do these days. Reminisce with us about the day he was born. 
Now, on to the celebration!


  1. We can't wait to celebrate Soren's 5th birthday. Great advice, we will heed it!

    PS: Remember how HOT is was the day Soren was born?

  2. I love chasing, grabbing, and throwing him around! I remember the last time I was there Soren and I had a great time. And I bet, even at my advanced age ;), I be able to do it for years.

  3. Great post. When are you having the party?

  4. Grandma gets to do squeezes that make Soren smile! And of course, blowing on his belly. We plan to come to Kontiki for that weekend.



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