This weekend we had the opportunity to go to a couple of birthday parties. I have such mixed feelings on birthday parties…a hang up I realize is totally my own.
The Menininho has made countless strides over the past 2 years since his autism diagnosis. His speech is nearly on par with other kids his age, he’s able to handle situations now that he couldn’t have 6 months ago, he is engaging in imaginative play. It’s amazing how far he has come from the toddler who would spend 45 minutes walking counter clockwise around the kitchen table and not responding to anything!
But, when we go to birthday parties, M keeps to himself. And while HE is perfectly happy, it makes me a little sad.
For example, Saturday was the birthday party of a classmate from last year. Immediately M made a beeline for a room in the house away from everyone else. It was just too loud and crowded for him. M happily played with the toys in that room for most of the party. When we went outside, he stayed away from the other children. If they were at the sand table, he was in the bouncy house. If they came in the bouncy house, he took the toy lawn mower for a spin.
As I’m sitting there watching him, I’m alternating between bursting with pride at how happy he is (a year ago he would have been picking mulch) and feeling sad that he isn’t playing with the other children and that the noise still bothers him so much (Though hey! He’s able to self-regulate by going to another room!). And then I feel guilty for feeling sad. But then I think, well, isn’t it natural to want your children to play well with others? And the skills used in playing are also important for navigating other chapters in life, like getting and keeping a job.
This internal battle brought me to the question, how do you straddle the fine line between accepting your children for who they are and wanting to help them develop the skills they need to be the most successful version of themselves? I respect the autism self-advocates that say autism is nothing to be “fixed” and I agree; there is nothing wrong with my son. At the same time, there are aspects of autism that make his life difficult and as a mother, I can’t sit back and not try to help mitigate those.
Is it the mark of a better mother to just let your child be happy for now, or to try to help him learn to get along with the other kids? When do you stop the latter for the former? When do you stop the therapy and just accept and enjoy? Or can you accept and enjoy while still working towards change? I’d like to think you can.