birthday bird

Birthday Moments | by Briannon Lee

“Has he been invited to any birthday parties?” asks the psychologist. I am in the assessment room with our 3.5 year old. The psychologist is young, working for an Aspergers clinic with an excellent reputation. Her assessment is thorough.

“No, he’s only three. Do kindy kids invite each other to birthday parties? We usually only invite family friends to ours.” My voice is confident but truthfully, I’m starting to crumble. I’m thinking about his kindergarten, remembering bright little slips of paper in other children’s pigeon-holes. Parents chatting with ease in the kindergarten foyer. There has been nothing colourful in our pigeon-hole, and no chatting with parents for me. Arrivals and departures are stressful, and the moments of conversation I can manage are worried words with teachers, tinged with frustration at both ends. I hadn’t even wondered whether there were playdates and parties being organised around us. Not until now.

“Well at kindergarten, children typically make friends and they often invite those kindy friends to their birthday parties.” The psychologist delivers her news about our friend-less, probably autistic child with the same gentle, reassuring voice she has used all the way through the assessment.

I’m crying. I’m trapped in this little room with the psychologist with her nice voice and nice shoes and nice questions and now I’m crying. I don’t know where to look. I look down at my son.

He’s lying down, with his little belly and cheek pressed to the beige carpet. His eyes are lined up with the wheels of a Thomas train that he’s holding in his little hand. He’s pushing it around the floor carefully, whispering lines from his favourite Thomas scenes, “Well, bust my buffers. Goodbye little James. You’ve been a very useful little engine.”

“Do you want to do anything for your birthday this week?” I ask my 5 year old. He’s playing with his lego ninjago figurines, pacing back and forth, moving pieces around the lego table, getting the scene just right. I feel bad for interrupting him.

“No party,” he says. Then returns to his lego. “A ninja never quits,” I hear him say with a perfect American accent. I think he’s spectacular. His hair is long and a mess of curls. He doesn’t go to school, so there’s been no pressure to conform with gender norms or even to wash and brush it, both of which he hates.

“Actually, I would like a ninjago cake. Maybe Nana and Granddad can come over, but nobody else”

We talk through the details of the cake, I make sure we get it just right so that I can tell my friend who will make it for us. He’s jumping up and down with excitement. Talking quickly. He’s animated. I am relieved. I just found out I am autistic too. Birthday parties aren’t my thing.

Our house is filled with people. About 40 adults and children. They’re in various corners, so it doesn’t feel like there’s so many people. My family are on the deck catching the winter sun, little children are pushing trucks and trains around, someone is helping the kids blow bubbles, and there’s a few older children on iPads gaming together. There are minecraft pictures everywhere.

When it’s cake time, my son asks us to tell people they don’t have to gather to see his cake, but they can if they want to. With his friends and his cousins standing around his minecraft cake, he says, “There will be no singing. Thank you for coming”.

As my wife cuts the cake, I look around at the family and friends celebrating my son’s birth day with us. Good people. Lots of autistic parents and kids; some who are not. Since leaving behind school and early intervention therapy systems, we’ve slowly found our community. Minecraft is Queen right now and our wild and free children spend their days gaming and occasionally running outside to bounce on the trampoline or climb a tree. They say, “I love you” and hug each other tightly. They don’t always get along, but they always figure it out. My son is understood and loved.

Even though I don’t like birthday parties, I’m feeling pretty joyful right now.

I feel myself pulled out of the present moment, away from the children standing around the cake, away from friends and family.

I’m taken back to a small room with a little boy lying on the floor, his belly and cheek pressed in to the carpet, a train in his hands. A woman with nice shoes and a nice voice asks,  “Has he been invited to any birthday parties?”


9 replies
  1. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    Hello! I’m new here. Thanks for everyone here. So, just beginning the figuring out of Aspergers, Autism in my daughter. Looking for support with no therapies. We had already planned no school – learning by living and am extra grateful for this now. She is almost 5! I guess my questions are too numerous and deep inside to post … but it’s all gonna be OK right? Living how we live and not inviting in strangers to “fix” anything? Loving her as she is – that’s how she loves us. Even when we all seem to get it wrong and aren’t sure how to make it better. She’s bright, curious, passionate, creative and I don’t want her to ever feel broken because she doesn’t fit someone else’s idea of who she should be. So much of life can be hard for her – brushing teeth or hair, bright lights, bugs, loud kids, transitions, getting dressed, certain smells, new foods, crowds, gatherings… But we take it as they come and laugh as much as we can and try to remember it’s also important to cry if we need to. We have a good life, and take small bites of the world. Sometimes they are delightful and sometimes we spit them back out. But living life, finding support and the right friends and always loving each other can be enough, right? It just doesn’t feel right to get a formal evaluation … To begin therapies with someone she doesn’t know. Maybe it will at some point, maybe not. But I love reading the stories here! They offer hope. Thank you.

    • Respectfully Connected
      Respectfully Connected says:

      WOW! I am so happy that you took time to comment. Everything will be OK. Definitely. It sounds like you and your daughter are connected. And you are meeting her needs. As you say “we have a good life”. When your daughter is older,she might want to see a health professional or therapist for support. That is OK too, we all sometimes need support with life, but there is no rush…

    • Respectfully Connected
      Respectfully Connected says:

      Oh and Colleen, you are always welcome to email or message us if you want to connect further. Bri

  2. pjwws
    pjwws says:

    You may watch the cake cutting, but you don’t have to. And there will be no singing. I like this boy. If the “Happy Birthday” song completely disappeared from human consciousness, the world would be a much better place.

  3. noriko
    noriko says:

    like your family, this has been such a journey for us. It wasn’t until we were able to fully embrace our son’s neurodiversity (as well as our own) were we able to start experiencing more joy together. When I stopped taking advice of the non autistic professionals and well meaning family/friends life just got better. It got easier and more fun (not perfect) but it really was about finding our own way of being and truly being ok with it. It’s been an awesome journey and I’m not even close to the same person I was 9 years ago when our son was born. As always, thank you so much for sharing Briannon. 🙂 <3

    • Respectfully Connected
      Respectfully Connected says:

      Noriko, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m happy to hear your journey was like ours in some ways. I have a lot of regret,and am practising forgiveness – we have come a long way together as a family. Sounds like you have too. B x


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