The day after my birthday and I have been left with a lot to think about. I had lots of wonderful birthday wishes from friends and family from far and wide and local. My husband decorated, got me much appreciated thoughtful gifts, lovely special cupcakes from the bakery, as a family we all went out for dinner along with my in-laws and my kids each were very creative in making me a birthday card. The thing is I am not sure how to answer the question, “how was my birthday?” I am not sure if everyone wants to hear when a “bad” day or a “challenging” day happens to coincide with a special occasion so usually I just post the happy pictures and tell folks that all was well.
This year I find myself not being able to do that and I have to tell it like it was. Johnny did not have a good day yesterday and I felt it from the moment he came into my room first thing in the morning for a cuddle. He felt “off.” He was going through the motions of what is expected with his mind being elsewhere. He was irritable. He has been through many Birthday celebrations before and loves getting to help with them for us and for other family. It is not an issue with understanding expectations or understanding what was happening. What is hard with Autism is even though Johnny can speak now he doesn’t always share how he is truly feeling. Parents will tell me that is the case with most kids but in our situation its when Johnny doesn’t do the expected but does other things that remind us to take a step back and ask ourselves, “what is he trying to tell us with this behaviour?”
Johnny loves going for long walks through our neighbourhood and we don’t own a car anymore so this is something he is very used to. We often dine in restaurants so we are aware of what bothers him when we eat out and what he likes so we choose accordingly. From the moment we decided to leave our house yesterday evening he wanted to change the route we were walking and that would add an extra 10 minutes to our walk in -14C windchill weather and did not make sense. Then he decided to jog ahead which told me that yes indeed he had lots of anxiety. At the restaurant he ordered his dinner but got very demanding about condiments that became unreasonable and unlike him so again we all knew something was bothering him. This was a favourite restaurant so again it felt confusing. He was able to calm and eat something else but we were all exhausted by that point trying to help him. Should we have left? We asked Johnny but he insisted that he wanted to be out for dinner and loves dinning out.
At home Johnny was eager to join with the family and get the cupcakes ready with the candles and birthday song but suddenly right when the big moment comes to sing he doesn’t want to sit where he normally sits which is perpendicular to me but he wants to sit on the opposite corner. Why? Because his sister who is sitting across from him is also sitting by their Grandma. “I don’t want to sit across from Grandma. I don’t like the word across.” Somehow we salvaged the birthday song and I had the kids help me out with blowing out the candles thinking I could distract Johnny but that trick doesn’t work anymore. He was back to insisting that he needed to sit elsewhere. Again we were confused because he doesn’t like change and he likes to sit where he sits consistently. His Grandpa wanted to move so Johnny could have the end of the table so he’d be perpendicular to Grandma but that wasn’t good enough. So he refused to sit down and after many protestations and tears he didn’t get to have a cupcake with us. I knew the kids were over tired and as parents we “know” what happens when kids get tired. Deep down I knew that we needed to calmly tell him the expectation and if he didn’t want to follow along then it was indeed time for bed. So the birthday girl had to enjoy her birthday desert with only one of her children beside her.
So the day after my Birthday I have many questions on what is bothering Johnny right now. He says school is hard. I just texted the EA and the main teacher and he is having a wonderful morning. He is happily working hard. We have seen his report card and special ed report card and he is moving forward quite well in reading and math and improving in public speaking and writing. So tonight is Parent/Teacher Conferences and my husband are going to be looking for clues so that we can help decipher Johnny’s behaviour. But until then, I have the bittersweet taste in my mouth that my Birthday was no where near what I thought it was going to be.