Monday, September 27, 2010

Birthday Parties and Kiddos with Autism and/or Aspergers

Hello there, Aspierations Friends!

Justin is turning 11 on Sunday!  To celebrate, we're having a birthday party for him and a group of his friends at Chuck E Cheese.  The group will include a healthy selection of neurotypical rowdy boys as well as children with Asperger's, kiddos with Autism and youth with Sensory Processing Disorder. There will be pizza, cake, fruit punch, video games, singing, acting goofy, acting Tigger (sorry, couldn't resist) and likely a heckuva lot of noise.  There will also be LOTS of fun!

You may have wondered, Karen Krejcha, Aspierations girlfriend, what on EARTH are you contemplating?  Your two boys are on the autism spectrum!  Don't you realize there are lights, noise, food with gluten, drinks with sugar and artificial sweetener, potential chaos and mayhem?  Don't you realize YOU'RE an Aspie too and can get socially anxious meeting new people?  Doesn't a nice quiet party with classical music, bridge and crudites sound much better?  Absolutely NOT!

What I'm thinking is that we asked Justin where he wanted to go for his birthday party this year and he said, "I want to go to Chuck E Cheese. I really like it there."  Well, alrighty then, let's make this happen and get this party started!

Years ago when I was a child (get out your fingers and toes and start counting), Asperger's was not a diagnosis option and it was pretty rare in the area where I grew up, to know of a child with an autism diagnosis.  Of course it didn't mean that these children weren't around because I definitely remember quirky kids growing up (myself included), it just meant that no one generally was "labeled".  Birthday parties still happened and if I recall correctly, they still happened at pizza places, ice cream parlours, bowling centers, miniature golf courses and entertainment places that generally had sugary drinks, sugary cake, noise, bells, whistles and more!

Farrell's at 1314 S. Mary Avenue in Sunnyvale, CA was an awesome old-fashioned ice cream parlour where birthday parties consisted of treats like the Zoo, the Hot Fudge Volcano (my favorite), the Pig's Trough (if you felt like being a real oinker and could eat it all by yourself, I think it was free) and employees running around singing and carrying ice cream masterpieces on big stretchers.  There were flashing lights, lots of noise and also a big candy shop area with huge lollipops and jawbreakers.  There was a fortune teller Zoltar type machine. There was also this Romance Fortune Teller sort of game where you put in some change and squeezed the hand while flashing lights went up and down and then stopped telling you how hot or cold you were as a romantic interest.  For the record, I think I was Sizzling!  Just kidding... maybe.  I really don't remember.  (Or if I do, I'm not sharing!)

I miss Farrell's.... and I surely could use a big tasty Hot Fudge Volcano right now like I had on my 16th birthday but that's another blog.  Did any of you out there go to Farrell's?  If so, what were your memories? Wasn't that place awesome? (You can see the excited kid in me coming out even now!)

So before I went down memory lane and stirred up a major ice cream craving, my point was that when I was a kid, we went to birthday parties at places that definitely provided sensory overload but we all survived and they were generally lots of fun other than a possible tummy-ache from too much ice cream and a sugar high which my parents had the pleasure of dealing with.  Still, FUN memories and I don't want my sons to miss out on that experience.

Autism does not define me and it will not define my son's birthday party!!

Now don't think for a second that I'm being ignorant or foolish and am going to let my children or other birthday party attendees act like banshees or do anything that would hurt them.  I am all about making accommodations for children and adults on the autism spectrum and removing obstacles and I'll work with each and every parent and boundaries will be totally respected.  There will be people at the party who will not be eating the pizza and there will be those avoiding the cake and punch.  There may be some with headphones to cover their ears from loud noises.  We're bound to get a few looks but we'll look right back, flash a big smile and remark how cool it is that kids can have so much fun in one place.  And seriously... how about that big rat Mouse in the corner?  What's up with him?

If I can multi-task well enough, I will try to be keeping Ryan from going fruit-punch hog wild himself.  I have strategies. We'll see if they work.  I'm dreaming of Good Intentions.... (yeah, yeah, Vibrations too)

Okay, here is the feel good story that I spoke of in yesterday's blog....

It's pretty common in the autism community to hear of stories from Moms & Dads about how their son or daughter rarely if ever gets invited to a birthday party.  Usually this is a source of sadness for the parent and any child who has ever been picked last for a team game or has felt left out, knows the pain of being excluded.

Justin lived in California from 1999 up until early summer 2007 and in that time, he was never diagnosed as being on the spectrum.  He was invited to only one birthday party in his first eight years.  (Want to guess where?  Chuck E Cheese in San Jose.)  I did feel sadness about this but we lived in an area that really wasn't all that safe and the elementary school that he attended provided him the opportunity to play with a couple kids (always girls, interestingly enough) but socializing really wasn't his thing and he didn't seem to "miss" not going to birthday parties. (It certainly wasn't as if we brought it to his attention either.)

When we moved to Washington in summer 2007, we decided we wanted to throw Justin his first birthday party.  Not having a whole lot of experience with this (i.e. NONE), we decided since he was new to his school, we would invite his entire third grade class (boys and girls) to his party as well as a bunch of neighborhood boys and girls hoping maybe we could help him socialize and make a new friend or two.  The party was at Big Al's (not to be confused with Big Gals... another funny story I'll share sometime) which was a modern hip bowling center with a fairly extensive arcade and gaming area and really good pizza.  We figured inviting 28 kids that we'd maybe get 9 or 10.  After all, they didn't know Justin and half the invites were girls.  We ended up with 26 children and I think a bonus kid that was someone's cousin...

That whole experience in itself should be a blog!  Interestingly enough, one of the boys that was invited and who attended the party had an autism diagnosis.  This was before our boys had been diagnosed.   His parents were SO HAPPY he was included and explained to us about their son's autism and dietary restrictions.  I remember their son attending like it was yesterday... and using it as a learning lesson with Justin for teaching acceptance.  Little did I know...

Well here it is 3 parties later and that son will be attending Justin's party again this Sunday.  Although he and Justin have not ever really hung out outside of school, they have eaten together before at lunch and Justin stuck up for him on a couple occasions when other kids weren't being so nice.  I am so proud of my son.

It occurred to me as we were addressing the invitations last week that about half of the boys being invited were somewhere on the spectrum and the other half were schoolmates or friends made through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  (This year we only invited 9 and with Justin and Ry that would be 11.  Eleven for his 11th! No girls this time... girls make Justin blush... which for now is PERFECTLY fine with me...)

There is a song from my Girl Scout days that goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold."  This reminded me of that song because Justin is starting to develop new social connections but along the way, he is making to sure to keep his old relationships too.

There have been maybe 4 boys who have been over to our home in the past 3 years, 2 of them have been over more than once.  Those 2 were boys he became closer with because they were initially invited to his birthday party.  One boy was new in town and the other was a boy who he was in Cub Scouts with that is quite possibly a spectrum traveler but undiagnosed.  These two boys have made a HUGE difference in Justin's social life and I must say have impacted his vocabulary ("DUDE") as well.

Knowing that children on the autism spectrum don't often get invited to birthday parties, we asked Justin if there was anyone in his SCIP class or core classes that he was getting to know that he'd like to invite.  Justin indicated that he had made friends with a boy in SCIP and wanted to include him.  He was very proud of including that boy's name on the list but was a bit worried that if giving the invitation to him at school, it would make its way home. (Paperwork, envelopes and books often disappear into a big black hole on the way from school to home in our household too...)

Well, the invitation made it and within just a few hours, we had an incredibly nice email from the boy's mother.  She had said that birthday invitations were few and far between for her son and that he was SO EXCITED to be able to attend.  Well, she and my husband exchanged a few additional emails and she's going to be there too and is looking forward to meeting us. (We invited parents to come as well in the hopes that maybe we can make a connection as well.  Now in theory that sounds great, but I know I'll be incredibly nervous the night before.  It's my son's birthday though, so I'm telling myself all will be copasetic, even if I have to wear my Aspie mask for part of the event!)

Of the 9 invitations sent out, you want to know who responded first saying that they and their sons wanted to come to a gluten-filled, carb crazy, sugary insane, sensory overload, video game noisy, gigantic Rat (err... I'm sorry, "Mouse") influenced amusement center hosted by someone named Chuck E Cheese?  DING DING! You guessed it!  Future Aspierations boys of America!  Can we give a shout out!  Holllllllla!   :-)

We will take care of the boys.  We will do our best to talk with each and get to know them and their parents if the situation presents itself.  If there are limitations, we will respect them.  If there are challenges, we'll overcome them.  We hope to give every single one of those boys an awesome time "Where A Kid Can Be A Kid".  Because that's what our boys are... KIDS!

For the record, I really hope Ryan will keep his clothes on and won't run around stealing other people's sodas this year.  But that's for another blog...

Let YOUR light shine, let your SON or DAUGHTER'S light shine!
Let them be a KID!  They'll have plenty of years where they'll be expected to be an adult.

And you know what?  The kid in me will probably come out on Sunday as well... if I don't freak out first from realizing what kind of social situation I've put myself into.  Wish me luck!

Sometimes you just need to build character...
Hopefully mine will be something cuter than a RAT giant MOUSE!  I know, how about a TIGER?

Until next time,
TIGER Karen, your friendly Aspierations blogger


  1. Fun blog, Karen. I like your style. Let us know how the party goes and how you hold up too. Thanks for the reminder that we need our children to experience life and not be sheltered just because they may be autistic.

  2. Thank you so much! I will be sure to blog about the party and will post a few photos as well. This will be Justin's 4th birthday party we have had for him (8, 9, 10 and now 11) and although I always get super anxious beforehand, there is a much greater good in play here! Seeing the kids happy and having fun... THAT ROCKS!

    Because Justin has an early in the year birthday, he usually ends up getting invited to a party or two as well later on. Definite side benefit for socializing! I try my best to set the stage for opportunities to present themselves positively.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Hope you will visit again. :-)

  3. Farrells employees in red and white vests and styrofoam hats running around with a zoo and spilling it on my grandma at my 13th birthday party, that is what I remember. HA HA HA HA HA. Sorry grandma. They also had a biorythm machine where you put in the birthdate of you and a girl or in your case Karen a boy and the machine tells you if you are compatible for making out that day. How did you do? Sizzling I bet ;-)

  4. I forgot about the biorhythm machine but once you mentioned it, the memories came back. They had one of those machines at Great America too and yes, being romantic and fun and silly, I put some coins into it a few times. I didn't particularly remember it as a "make-out" machine but it was fun.