The Thing About Birthdays When You Have A Kid With Autism

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.


My son Norrin turned seven years old last Sunday. We didn’t have a birthday party for him, we kept it pretty low key. Actually we haven’t had a party for Norrin in a few years.

I remember when Norrin turned one. I know a lot of parents throw a big party. But it didn’t make sense to me because – what one year knows it’s their birthday? So we went to my parents house and cut a cake. We told ourselves: when Norrin turns five, we’ll throw a big party. Of course, that was before Norrin was diagnosed with autism.

I was concerned about Norrin before he turned two but was advised to wait. On his second birthday, we stayed home and cut a cake with friends. And the next day, when Norrin still wasn’t talking or clapping or pointing, I made a call to schedule our first evaluation with a developmental pediatrician.

By the time Norrin turned three, he had an autism diagnosis and was in the full swing of early intervention services. And that was the year, we decided to throw a party. We invited friends, family and the neighbors to our small two-bedroom apartment. I ordered pizza and an elaborate Disney Cars cake. I made goody bags for the kids.

It was the first time I think I realized how difficult socialization was for Norrin. Watching the other kids playing together and seeing Norrin play by himself was tough. Every so often, he’d come out of the room to have some time away from the kids. After a few hours we sang Happy Birthday, helped Norrin blow out his candles and cut the cake. I decided that we weren’t throwing another party.

And since then we’ve celebrated Norrin’s birthday quietly. Going to his school with cupcakes, juice boxes and goody bags. And then we’ll do something special – just us. Last year, we went to the Monster Jam Truck Show. And this year, we spent the day in Connecticut – at an aquarium and a children’s museum – at places he loves. Then we went for Chinese – Norrin’s favorite. And he was happy.

I think my husband and I would love to throw a big birthday bash. With balloons and music, surrounded by friends and family. But right now, that’s not what Norrin wants. That’s not what he cares about. Norrin’s happy with a few gifts and cake – even if it’s just the three of us singing Happy Birthday.

How do you celebrate birthdays?

photo credit: cafemama via photopin cc

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  1. by tj

    On January 24, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I too have an autistic child who is now 16. Like you, we do small celebrations at school and then have a special family day doing and going the things he likes best and going to the places he likes most. A huge amount of presents are simply overwhelming for my child. I recall so many of the Christmas get togethers where we bought a ton of stuff because we were reliving our childhood which meant more presents = more fun. It would take him a week to open the presents and sometimes longer. So we started cutting back a few years ago and have found the magic number that he will open and enjoy without the overwhelming fear of all that stuff.

  2. by Ads

    On January 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    My son is 5
    We just celebrate at home but I think we’ll try Legoland with a few friends next year
    That way even if he doesn’t play with his guests I know he will have a great time

  3. by Autism Spectrum

    On January 31, 2013 at 3:29 am

    My Younger sister is having autism, and we always try to celebrate her birthday in a very different and unique way.
    it takes lots of efforts to make these children with autism

  4. by CHARM

    On March 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    For the past 7 years, I’ve given my child a big birthday party, and last 3 years, I’ve noticed how the other children get more enjoyment and pleasure then he does. After last year, I finally get it. No more big celebrations for a while. His 8th bday is tomorrow and I only planned on having ice cream and cake and maybe 4 or 5 kids over after school to sing happy birthday. But as the evening draws to a close, for some reason I’m beginning to feel sort of guilty. In addition to the after school event, I think I’ll bring cupcakes to his classroom so he can celebrate with classmates. I just want him to feel extra special on his day, no matter how small the celebration.

  5. [...] will be nine in January and birthdays have always been tricky for us. We haven’t had a birthday party since he turned three. It’s easier to celebrate in [...]