When No One Comes to Your Kid’s Birthday Party, It Hurts

Posted on • Christina Adams

A dad says he’s sad because his autistic teen daughter “doesn’t have friends of her own” and half her birthday party guests cancelled.
A mom prepares food and decorations for a party, then waits…the food sits out, the teen boy is upset, and finally, she makes up a reason why no one came.
A teen girl won’t have her own birthday party since her autistic brother always feels alone and cries when no one comes to his. They don’t have parties, just family trips.

The pain of autism is not limited to the big things, like not being able to live alone, have a family, or even speak. It crops up on innocent occasions, like birthday parties. Seems like a few guests would come to a child’s birthday party, right? THERE MUST BE SOMEONE FOR THESE PEOPLE, outsiders think.

Guess what—there often isn’t. Even the people who would be expected to attend, like family, friends, therapists, other kids in the same class, disabled kids’ families, may not come. Maybe they’ve already given so much they can’t give up a Saturday again. Maybe their own autistic kid can’t tolerate hearing the Happy Birthday song (it happens) or thinks cake will give him germs (yeah, that happened too). Or they have an autistic kid who is doing better and doesn’t want to come to a lower-functioning kid’s birthday party. Or they’re busy with their own therapies, like sports leagues (http://www.spiritleague.org), getting piano lessons at $90 per hour (people charge a lot more to teach ASD kids), or they weren’t invited since the parent is too overwhelmed to connect to other autism families.

And the last people you will see at an autistic kid’s birthday party are normal kids. In the early years, they might show up since it’s good manners to be inclusive and their families follow the herd. After fourth grade, that pretty much disappears. Middle school is a jungle and “neurotypical” high schoolers can range between beautiful acceptance and extreme bullying, occurring hour by hour on the same campus. That’s one reason a lot of autism families homeschool.

So you would think an 18-year-old girl’s father would not feel the pain, the sadness, and the absolute depression of his daughter’s isolation. HE SHOULD BE USED TO IT BY NOW, you think. WHAT DOES HE EXPECT?

The head can accept things the heart never can.
Happy birthday, pretty girl.

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A Real Boy: A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention and Recovery


Her series “Autism and Beyond” airs on Autism Live. Watch here.

Christina Adams is an American award-winning writer, journalist, author and speaker. She and her work have been featured by National Public Radio, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, LA Times Magazine, Gulf News, Khaleej Times, Dubai One, GOOD, Open Democracy, OZY, Autism File, Global Advances in Health and Medicine, Her book Camel Crazy: A Quest for Miracles in the Mysterious World of Camels explores the scientific and cultural importance of camels and their milk. Her book A Real Boy… Her book A Real Boy (Berkley/Penguin) reveals the world of autism and her son’s early intervention. Her series “Autism and Beyond” airs on Autism Live at www.autism-live.com. An expert on autism and camel milk, she advises families and scientists from many countries. She enjoys connecting with people from all cultures.

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Christina Adams