In my last post, I mentioned introducing special events to the weekly planning board. I’m going to expand on that now with a recent example. It kind of worked … and it very much didn’t.
It was my birthday not long ago. Special events are some of the most challenging days of the year. Knowing this, I made a visual of a present and stuck it on the day of my birthday (it happened to be a Monday) on our weekly planning board. This was to prepare them for a change in their routine so the kids knew what to expect.
Despite being prepared, special events can still be challenging. It’s a change in routine, and routine is very important for children with autism. It may not be their birthday, so they may not get gifts, but they have an expectation of how the day should go. There should be a party, there should be cake. They really, really don’t want to go to school this day. They want to stay home, decorate the house and especially eat cake.
My husband went to great lengths to try to give me a special day, starting with a lovely breakfast in bed (I know! So romantic). He’s a wonderful husband and father, but sometimes the best plans just don’t work out. On the morning of my birthday I stayed in bed and listened to everyone get ready. I heard the difficulties: the whinging and whining, the fighting. I heard them upset each other, getting into each other’s personal space. My husband was in the kitchen preparing breakfast and I could hear that things were starting to become unstuck.
Then it was time to “bring Mummy her presents and breakfast”. Oh, boy.
Our 6-year-old wanted to be the one to bring the presents. Miss 8 thought that carrying a present was a great idea and picked one up. Mister 6 did not approve – he wanted to carry all the presents. He also wanted to eat the food from my breakfast tray. They all wanted the same yummy food, right now, so my husband quickly disappeared to get their breakfasts ready too. Mister 6 was still crying that he wanted to bring the presents. Our youngest wanted to cuddle on my lap and very nearly sat directly in my breakfast. Food went everywhere. The noise from Mister 6 and Mister 3 was too much for Miss 8, who started to scream. Soon it was a big crying and screaming session with three children having meltdowns in a puddle of fast-cooling food on my bed.
You can imagine how well the rest of the morning went.
After Mummy’s special birthday breakfast was over and two over-stressed, exhausted children had been bundled off to school, it was time for Mister 3’s appointment with his speech pathologist, who is also an absolute genius in the world of autism. Still frazzled and reeling, I told her of our difficult morning. She made a suggestion.
“Simone,” she said, “This may sound completely bizarre to you, but in future, birthdays should only be on Saturdays or Sundays, even if they’re not.”
This is because school mornings are challenging enough without adding a birthday to it. The expectations that children build around school days and special days are completely different. A neurotypical child may be able to handle it, may accept a celebratory breakfast followed by school then birthday dinner, but our children could not. And whatever you do, NEVER EVER HAVE A BIRTHDAY ON A MONDAY. Remember how hard it is for our children to adjust to school again after the weekend? It is so much worse if that Monday is also a special day.
Her reasoning is sound. After the morning we’d had, I thought it was the best idea I’d ever heard and couldn’t think why I’d never thought of it before. I had, of course, always done their birthday parties on the weekend. But the “real” celebration … It should work great while the kids are young and have no real understanding of dates. Hopefully when they are older and have learnt about birth dates, they will have accepted that birthdays are always celebrated on the weekend. So from now on, every special event we have will be on the weekend closest to the actual date – at least while school is in.
(My birthday did improve after the morning. My husband, and I relaxed on the couch that evening and watched a movie, its such a luxury to kick your feet up at the end of the day)