Something as big as the movie outing doesn't come around every day for us. Oddly, this weekend, the very next night, Daniel was invited to a birthday party. Let me preface this by saying, this is not exactly a common thing. It is one of the sad facts about being "different". I've written several times that Daniel has the best peers. Kids who really care about him. But when it comes to hanging out or going to parties, it doesn't quite extend that far. Some parents get very worked up over this. I understand it though. I really do. When you can barely carry on a conversation, it makes it tough.
I have found in talking to other parents with kids on the spectrum, it seems we have a higher than average rate of parties. I would say Daniel averages one a year. Not an outstanding showing, but I've found lots of kids who have NEVER been invited to a party. Perspective. Now one a year sounds outstanding, doesn't it? As the kids have gotten older it seems that a lot of parties revolve around sleep overs . This makes it even more difficult and it makes sense that he wouldn't go. Although one year his friend *Jim* invited him to a sleepover. I brought him to the earlier party portion then left before the sleep over part started. We weren't the only ones to get out before the overnight craziness began. Believe me, if the earlier part of the party showed what was to come, I wouldn't have wanted him there.
This invitation was from a girl who has been in Daniel's corner since 1st grade. I'll call her *Mary*. That's the grade that he started school with these kids. She is a beautiful, "popular" girl that everyone loves. She has always been a champion for everyone. For years they were always in the same class together. Put that way as a set up, of course, knowing that she would always help him when needed. That's just the kind of girl she is. Her mother told me a story yesterday about a few boys who had been teasing a girl on line. One called her a name. Something very hurtful. *Mary* told them all off and said that if they didn't apologize and stop doing things like that, they wouldn't be allowed to come to her party. One of the boys wasn't there.
The party was held at our community center. During the first half they all got together and swam for an hour, then went up to the party room. There were 30 kids invited. I was fearful of the noise level getting Daniel very upset during this portion of the party. (Not to mention the adults) So I stuck around. I'm the only parent, of course, who still does this. No one seems to pay much attention to it though. They are all used to Daniel having someone with him. It is accepted as "normal". I think I feel more awkward about it than anyone else.
The tables were set up in a huge rectangle. As with most 11 and 12 year olds the room was divided boys on one side, girls on the other. Except for Daniel he was on the "girl's side" I don't think he was really paying attention, he just sat down, then it all filled in around him. *Mary* ended up right next to him. The dad of the party jokingly said, "what are all of you boys, except Daniel too scared to sit by the girls?" This got a nervous laugh out of some of them. Then as expected out of pubescent boys some of them started throwing grapes. Daniel got a bit upset by this, because, you know, you aren't supposed to throw food. Clear cut rules like this are very upsetting to him when being disobeyed. I was on the other side of the room, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I was about to walk over to try and relax him, when I saw *Mary* lean over to Daniel and whisper something to him ever so quietly. I would bet I'm the only one in the room who even saw it. It was so sweet and thoughtful. Then she turned to the boys and said "stop throwing food NOW". I love this girl. The best part is, they stopped.
The kids hustled through their food and cake and ice cream, because the next portion was the "dance party". I wasn't aware of this part of the plan. She brought the ipod, the docking station, and a strobe light and a lighted ball that turns, sort of like a disco ball. The lights went out, the music turned on, "Louder", are the calls from the kids. I hold my breath and see what's going to happen next. "Louder, turn the music up", says another. I take in my breath a bit more. All of the girls sans one or two are in the middle of the room, giggling, dancing, and singing loudly to the music. Some of the boys are sort of circling the circle. Some are staying way back and watching. Daniel wanders over to the lights and for a few moments is captivated by the strobe effect. He wanders around, really not looking too different from the other boys his age. The sound doesn't seem to be bothering him, which is allowing me to start exhaling a bit. Then he walks over to the outside of the circle. I can see him watching them dance. Then. . . . he starts to dance. It was a bit goofy at times. But one of the BEST things about autism, is the joy of not caring what anyone thinks. I think we could all use a bit of that couldn't we? I whispered to the mom, "he is the definition of 'dance like nobody's watching'". She said, "he's got some moves". And there he was dancing with his peers. Completely and totally enjoying the music and the company. At that moment, not being any different from any other 12 year old in the room. It was beautiful.
After a while he came and sat down by me and said, "I'm kind of tired from all that dancing". The other parents were starting to show up, so we decided to go. He yelled out, "see ya later everybody", they all yelled "bye Daniel, we're so glad you came". He thanked *Mary* for inviting him, her parents too. Then we walked out into the cold cold night.
The whole way home I was smiling. I was also realizing that there may be a lot more dances in our future with me lurking in the shadows, making sure he doesn't go into sensory overload. Passing myself off as just a chaperone. The other parents there will also be making sure their kids are behaving as they should be, and keeping their eyes on them while they enjoy the dance. We'll both be watching them grow and mature. There really isn't much difference.
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