Birthdays are a wonderful time. A day to celebrate, to feel special, to show people you care. Magic moments spent with family and friends. Balloons, bunting, presents and cake. In Holland birthdays are a huge deal, traditionally celebrated with a Dutch circle party.
Since having kids my love of birthday parties has turned to dread and fear. It is not family parties that fill me with dread but other children's.
What do you do when your child isn't included?
Every child is different. Not every child can be the popular one and as a teacher I get that.
I am not a helicopter mum, hovering around my children, organising play dates every day, pushing to make connections, to forge friendships. I want my kids to make their own way to choose their own friends. But as a mum I find it hard to see how anybody wouldn't love my little darling, wouldn't want to be their best friend, wouldn't want them at their party.
How do autistic children contend with party season?
Let us first dispel this myth that autistic people are loners who do not want friends.
For the big lad the opposite is true. He thinks that everyone is his friend. What a great attitude to have.
Trusting, open and unspoilt.
He organises his own play and often arrives home after school with a friend saying we want to hang out. But he is happy to play with his brother or to be alone and he tends to play with one good friend.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have been more proactive? Encouraged the big lad to invite more friends to play after school. Networked more with the mums. But as an expat learning the language, I find this difficult and life is busy... I work and the boys have swim lessons and therapy. Time is short!
There have been several reports in the news and on social media involving autistic children who have had disappointments on their birthdays. These have ended up good news stories with amazing, kind hearted people making the child's birthday one to remember, sports people, police and fire departments have even got in on the act. Amazing stories but...
Why can't we just support each other, why do we need the help of kind strangers? What has happened to our community?
I spend most of my time and energy advocating that my son is treated like everyone else, that he is included, accepted. Stories like this show me that we still have a long way to go!
We assume that people 'get it', understand the challenges faced by parents of special needs kids. But can any parent really understand how it feels to watch your child struggle to do the things that their child takes for granted? Whether that be, make friends, kick a ball, read, write a story or even speak.
Both my kids have had disappointments.
But when you have a child with autism the problem is exacerbated. It is simple he doesn't get invited to many things.
This week the big lad had a massive disappointment as someone that he considered a close friend didn't invite him to his party.
How do you help your child deal with the disappointment of rejection?
When the parents of the party giver are also 'friends' then it hits you hard!
It is more proof that autism awareness does not lead to Autism acceptance even among people you thought were friends.
I am beginning to hate birthday parties because for me they signify, disappointment, rejection, non-acceptance. It is a reminder that my child is different, that he doesn't quite fit in.
I only hope that, people begin to realise that being a friend to someone a little different can be amazing too!