Several months before Nicholas turned ten in the month of March in 2005 I planned a trip to Sea World during the same week, which also happened to be during Spring Break. We had never had a birthday party so I checked around many of the groups I belong to online and found that many had successful parties for their children on the Autism Spectrum.
I read over the The Best Birthday Ideas and got some great tips. Now that I look back it seems the younger kids have better outcomes with their parties. This may be due to the parent's being involved and coordinating the RSVP. In our case Nicholas was in the third grade, regular education on an elementary campus in Los Angeles.
I ordered some of the favors online through ebay and then picked out the rest at Party City. I got some notebooks, paddleballs, neon wristbands and hand held games. Since it was close to Easter I also filled some goodies. I got large goodie bags to fit everything inside. I tried to find things both girls and boys would like with neutral colors.
I had leftovers to give to Matthew's classmates too. We decided together on a bowling theme party. I was undecided on which location to hold it at since there is one past Griffith Park that is across the street from the Equestrian Center and also has an ice skating rink on the other side of the Bowling alley. I thought this would be suitable so I could walk around with Matthew if he got agitated with the noise level from the bowling alley.
Ultimately we chose a closer Bowling Alley that is not too far and easily accessible by bus for those who do not own cars. We live around the corner from the school with the majority of the students being Hispanic. Since preschool Nicholas has not been invited to any birthday parties from classmates at this school. Basically the parents bring goodies to the classroom for the birthday celebration.
There is a communication gap also with many parents only speaking Spanish. At the open house the teacher had a student from another grade do the translation for the parents who only speak Spanish. I was hopeful that we would have a good turnout for the Saturday before the spring break. We wrote out the invitations with Nicholas handing them out to each student in his class. He did not bother inviting anyone in the other two third grade classes, although he did tell a friend who sat next to him that his sister could attend.
Nicholas asked the teacher when a good time for him to distribute his invitations and delighted in handing them out. The next day a classmate asked for another one since he said he lost it and Nicholas would regularly ask the kids about going to the party. I believe the main confusion stemmed from what R.S.V.P. means. We had our phone number listed and I explained what RSVP meant to Nicholas as a way for people to respond with their coming to the party.
I have no idea how R.S.V.P. translates into Spanish, but we got one phone call from an older sibling of a classmate. It turned out she was the only one who could speak English and she said all five members of her family would be attending and I gave directions to the bowling alley.
We also invited our volunteer through Family Friends to help assist with Matthew and take turns with me spending time with the birthday kid. I had to give an estimate of how many would attend. The person I dealt with at the Bowling Alley thought I should add more to that number so the price was $250 with the deposit made ahead of time. She ordered the pizza, which would come from another place and be delivered. The cake I picked up near us and brought over with some juice since they only serve soda.
Nicholas asked the classmates the last day of school before they got out for the spring break and checked off which ones were coming from a list we made up of all students. It looked like we would have 11 students coming with family members.
We went early to the Bowling Alley and noticed that there were several parties being set up. We found our space and Nicholas spent time coloring a t-shirt they give him. I had the bag with the favors and soon our Family Friend volunteer Erin arrived. She turned out to be the lone arrival for our table. Nicholas bowled two games and I had to pay the full price no matter that no one showed up. We gave a box of pizza to Erin and Nicholas thanked her for the Incredibles DVD.
It just so happened that they were showing it on the TV in the Bowling Alley and this kept Matthew occupied, but he did run around the alley bothering some people. At least Matthew had on the right shoes. It was very sad to see the other party arrivals showing up and watching the door hoping to see a classmate of Nick's. We waited as long as we could and then left for home.
Nicholas did not want to wear the t-shirt and luckily we had to do last minute preparations for our Sea World trip so the disappointment of the Bowling Party was long forgotten once school started up again. Nicholas had a new backpack from Sea World and lots to talk about to the kids about his spring break and feeding Dolphins on his birthday.
At the IEP meeting I mentioned this Birthday Party fiasco and the third grade teacher stated that had I rented a bus everyone would have been there. They all agreed that the RSVP was most likely the cause of many not going along with the families not speaking English or having vehicles to get there. The school gets a bus for a yearly event to The Getty Museum and many attend this function. This is not something we do since it is not an appropriate event for Matthew to attend.
With the birthday coming up next month I asked Nicholas if he wanted to do a party. I told him I really did not want one here and have to do all the work and have Matthew irritated by people in the house. Nicholas thought having a birthday party at home is not a good idea and he is not interested in having one.
It is a shame that my son cannot experience the joy a birthday party can bring. This is not all related to being an autism issue, but based on the times we live in this city and how the children are not really socializing outside the school. I have shared my scrapbook from my childhood with Nicholas, showing him birthday party invitations and overnight parties.
Nicholas did not want to bring the favor bags to school, so I tossed out the snack items and at the end of the school year on the last day he handed them out to the classmates. They were all excited and thanked me as I picked him up.
Playing Jenga the Autism way
Birthday Express Party Planning
Here are some birthday party ideas from other sections of BellaOnline:
A Super Hero Celebration
When One Twin gets invited