Anticipating Brendan's birthday...
Tomorrow (nearly today!) is Brendan's 11th birthday. He was our April Fool's Day surprise (he arrived 6 days early :) and is very pleased to share his day with JK Rowling's Weasley Twins, Fred & George. Since Brendan was 6 we have had themed birthday parties, involving much planning & a relatively small number (no more than 7 total) of kids, since it's been obvious to us since well before he was diagnosed with autism that Brendan does best with less noise & lots of structure. His 6th birthday party had a Harry Potter theme & the kids dressed-up in capes & robes, "pinned the scar on Harry", had a potions lesson (involving food-coloured baking-soda-&-vinegar mixtures), & tried to guess what was in the HP-themed themed box by feel alone. I think this was the last time I made Brendan's birthday cake from scratch- topped with a quidditch pitch complete with hoops & lego Harry & Malfoy flying above on brooms, suspended by wires. The next 2 birthdays had a science theme & we all wore lab coats & constructed simple flashlights from film cases, made clocks run with lemons, & ran a weak electrical circuit through the whole group to light up a special ball. The last 2 (9 & 10) have been spy parties, & Brendan decided to pretend to be "kidnapped" from his own party last year, so the real spy task was to find him (at the neighbours') using various gadgets that they'd had to find hidden around the house, by cracking various codes... The details of last year's party may be found here & here.
This year Brendan decided on an Adventure Quest theme, which was a nice change, planning-wise. We will dress-up, of course, & I have a basket full of his out-grown wizard & jedi robes, capes, tunics from the mummer's plays for the larger kids, & various other paraphenalia, although we've decided not to include any swords or sword-like objects for obvious reasons... This year there are a few more kids invited-11, since Brendan has made more friends over the years. We have never approached birthday parties as a social obligation- I have never liked big, blow-out kids' parties & Brendan wouldn't be able to cope with that sort of thing, anyway. We've never been able to invite his whole class at school, nor have we been able to reciprocally invite some of the kids that invite him to their parties. So far we haven't heard any complaints... two of the parents of first-time invitees that I spoke to this year when they RSVP'ed seemed very understanding (when I kind of broached the subject :), but they both have special needs kids, too. One of the fun things about planning the activities for the parties as Brendan gets older is that the activities can get more & more sophisticated. Another is that Brendan can be involved in more of the brainstorming, although I still need to do most of the planning because it won't be fun for him if he knows too much.
I decided that I wanted to stress co-operation this year. The competitive spirit just seems to get stronger with some of the kids & that's fine on a playing field, but I don't think it's much fun for a birthday party... I googled "co-operative games" & found some really good resources, which I adapted to the mediaeval/dungeons & dragons-type theme. We'll start with everyone who wants to dressing-up (I hope they still want to! Brendan will be wearing his "Glacius" robes & has requested that Charlie & I dress-up, too). Then I'll do a bit of explaining for the newbs (to Brendan-style parties) & explain the quest, which will be to earn bags of "gold" (puzzle pieces) by participating in group challenges. Some challenges will be for the whole group & some will be by choice. The puzzle pieces, assembled, will be a treasure map. The treasure is goody bags for all on a bed of mardi gras beads :) The first challenge will be for the group to construct a "bridge" across a room with a limited number of boards, which will require some thought & co-operation, since they'll all have to cross over in a group & the boards don't reach all the way. Then they'll be able to choose between solving riddles posed by a sphinx (our 17-year-old goddaughter :) or finding certain pokemon that will be scattered throughout the place by decoding their names in Japanese :) (yes, Brendan will have an advantage here, but he's the birthday boy!). Then comes the twist... half of the group (to be determined blindly) will be "cursed" & become a dragon :) They will then have to accomplish the task of getting the other kids to do something for them, all without speaking, in order to lift the curse. At the same time the other kids will be trying to "Cross the Great Divide"- crossing a room by standing side-by-side, sides of feet touching at all times. The final task will be avoiding being captured by the sphinx as they cross her desert by all crowding onto a "magic carpet" whenever she shows up. Anyone caught off the carpet by the sphinx will have to be ransomed by the rest of the group by answering one last riddle. Then, all they have to do is assemble the puzzle pieces they've earned, figure out the map, & retrieve the treasure... If all this seems to be a bit involved, all I can say is that I learned my lesson 2 years ago when they went through a spy activity that took me days to plan (I actually flow-charted it) & 2 hours to set up, in about 30 minutes. I was really proud when last year's activities took over an hour to solve...
These past few days leading up to tomorrow's party have been busy. I helped my mom move to a new apartment yesterday morning, picked Brendan up at 1:30 from school, then made dinner for 7- we 3, my mom, & friends & family who had all helped her to move (one of my cousins came down from Ottawa to help out!).
Thurdsay morning I had a very disenheartening experience, which took some of the joy out of planning Brendan's party & turned it to worry. As Brendan & I got to school that morning we ran into 3 classmates, all who are invited to his party, who had been dropped off early. Brendan gave them a cheery "hi" when he saw them... & they completely ignored him. He tried again, but they said nothing to him. I was caught between disbelief, anger, & hurt for Brendan. I couldn't believe that they would be so insensitive or ungrateful. Brendan didn't say anything & it didn't seem to dampen his mood, but I was really upset. I mentioned it to Cherie, his consultant teacher, with whom, I spent a few minutes sorting out the events of the next few days (scheduling Brendan's birthday meeting at school for next Tuesday, since he gets the rest of his braces on this Monday, figuring out if I could fit a japanese lesson in on Friday & still help my mom move...). She didn't seem terribly surprised, in a sad way, & said that this was one reason they're doing the weekly socialisation workshops, because so many of the kids don't have good skills for positive interaction with their peers. Sigh. My stomach was knotted all morning. I have tried to convince myself that these are good kids at heart, that Brendan wants them at his party, & they'll probably be better behaved out of school, but, as I said, I have been sad & worried ever since. I also mentioned this incident to Paula (friend, director of the school, & mom to college-age son with ASD) & she said that she'd experienced this quite a lot as her son was growing up. The irony that our boys, who have had intense intervention for social skills since they were both quite young, are the ones considered "socially impaired" is not lost on us... It was very comforting to be able to share my worries with Paula, who's "been there, done that". I am very fortunate to have her as a friend! (She'll be at the party tomorrow, too, & offered to sit on anyone who gets out of line, but I told her that I want her to enjoy the party!)
Today Brendan was really on edge. He seemed almost sad to be getting older, & at the same time excited about presents & party. Anticipation is never easy for him, so that may have been what put him closer than usual to meltdown throughout the day. We had an early japanese lesson, at 11:30 rather than 1:00, so that we could go over to our sailing club (where the party is going to happen) & set some things up. Tomoko planned the lesson to be a conversation about InuYasha's birthday & finding out how old he is (he's not really sure, being a demon) & what he wants as a present... It was really cute & Brendan did his best to participate from the kitchen floor (we started out at the table). Today Charlie helped him read some of the conversation (written in a mix of hiragana & katakana), which was really cool. Tomoko was very impressed by how much he's learned. After lunch we went to the club, taped, measured, blew up balloons, & decided the location for the treasure to be hidden. Then we came home & I made a list of everything else that needs to be brought tomorrow. We'll have church in the morning, which won't go over well with Brendan, since he'll want to make the lego set he's getting (an ExoForce set he's been wanting) or watch one of the dvd's (a Marx Brothers' collection & new a Pokemon Advanced Battle) instead of going to church. Sigh. When I look into tomorrow I keep seeing places where Brendan may get hung-up. I just hope he has fun. Charlie & I were talking this evening about this being perhaps the last year he'll want this sort of very involved interactive experience for his party. If so, it'll be sad, but a relief, too. I rarely look back & get wistful about Brendan getting older- he was an extremely challenging child in early childhood & next we knew we were dealing with intervention upon intervention, co-ordinating care-giver upon care-giver in the wake of his autism diagnosis. Now he's within minutes of being 11... I teased him a bit this evening about perhaps getting his Hogwarts letter this summer :) He said that he wouldn't mind having an owl fly down the chimney to visit him :)