When a child receives a birthday party invitation, most parents put the date on the calendar and grab a gift on the next visit to Target. However, birthday parties are always a source of conflict for us when it comes to our oldest, Luke (8). Asperger's has a way of doing that sometimes.
When he was a toddler, he often got over stimulated due to the sensory overload. The noise, the activity, and the break from his regular routine were too much for him to handle. Meltdowns were not probable. They were guaranteed.
We'd often end up flustered, embarrassed, and exhausted as we drove home in defeat. To make matters even worse, we carried a tremendous load of guilt for feeling flustered, embarrassed, and exhausted.
I was envious of the other families who didn't have an Asperger's diagnosis control every single factor of life. I wondered what it would be like to pull up to the party, hop out of the car, and simply watch Luke play with the other children, play games, and happily skip out to the car once the cake was consumed and party favors were passed out.
We sadly came to a premature conclusion that birthday parties were never going to be easy for Luke. Truthfully, it was easier to accept this and attend parties with a real perspective rather than to be filled with anxiety and ultimately disappointment.
When you see your child struggle everyday to fit into the "norm" it slays you when you watch other children so easily function within a social setting that requires no prompting, teaching, or stress. Most children inately know how to socially interact and have fun with one another at birthday parties.
Which is why it hurt so much.
Now that Luke is 8 and has progressed so significantly, we worry a lot less about parties. In fact, I worry no more or less than I do with my other two little guys.
However, when we read that my nephew's upcoming birthday party was at a BMX racing course, I have to be honest, this was my 1st thought:
"He's never getting on his bike once he sees that track." Riding bikes is one of his least favorite activities.
When we pulled in and he saw the track he didn't protest a bit.
When I opened the trunk of my minivan I expected him to complain about riding.
He helped me pull his red and black bike out.
When he found out that he could not wear his helmet from home and would have to wear a racing helmet, I knew we'd be watching from the sidelines.
He thought about it. He protested a bit. Change is not easy when you have Asperger's.
Then he reached for the racing helmet and asked me to strap it on.
My heart was pounding. The anxiety peaked. It was almost easier for me to know that he wasn't going to try. Now I was filled with fear. I didn't want him to try and then get hurt since he's not much of a bike rider. What if he put himself out there and didn't succeed? I was simply so proud that he wanted to even wear the helmet. I didn't want it to be one step forward two steps back.
I watched him from the benches as the group of boys stood at the top of the hill by the racing entrance gates. I nervously gazed at him as he slowly started to back away from the gates as he cut through the crowd of excited boys. My heart sunk. He got so close to trying and now he was backing out. I could tell he was bravely fighting back tears. He was convinced it was just too dangerous. I could sense his internal conflict of wanting to try, but being too afraid to try. He knew he was the only big kid not going on the track and it bothered him.
I was that kid too. Always afraid. Wanting to try. Letting my fears get the best of me. Always the wimpy one. Carrying that shame.
Although my initial reaction was to push him to try, I've learned better. I accepted his choice. I told him to come sit with me and watch the other boys. Kids need to feel safe and accepted when they are feeling intimidated and afraid. It is not about me it is abut him. It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson.
Within 15 minutes he caught me off guard with, "Okay, I'm ready now."
And with that, he put his racing helmet back on, grabbed his bike and walked it up the dirt hill to the entrance of the gates.
He was off. He was slow and cautious. He needed some help from the supervisors to get up a few hills, but by his 3rd time around the track, he was cruising at his own pace. No longer afraid, he'd pedal past me and yell, "Hi Mom!" and then he purposely skid at the end of the track as if to throw in some extra attitude. I could feel my heart swelling to the point that I thought it may burst. My brother, sister, and I cheered like crazy. When he gets over those hurdles it is so huge and it is a triumph for all of us. I just cheered and cheered and cheered as if it was the fuel that kept him going.
Oh, that kid has taught me so many lessons. How I wish I could trust my instincts as well as that kid trusts his own. How I wish I would be less influenced by what other's think about me. How I wish that I would do things when I know it is right instead of when other's think it is right. He's his own guy and he's not afraid to be himself. I wish I could say the same.
Above all, I'm learning to let it go. I'm learning to let go of my preconceived ideas. I'm learning to respond to each of my children in a very self-specific manner. There is no one size fits all approach to parenting in this casa.
Most importantly, I learning to let go of living up to the "norm."
It is so overrated.
Check him out on youtube. He's in the middle of the track when it starts in the jeans, black jacket, and black and white helmet. I cry when I watch it. He's come far. The sky's the limit. Soar high, Luke. Soar high.