This coming Sunday we are giving Emma a birthday party. In years past this has been a dubious endeavor, often met with initial excitement on Emma’s part, only to end with complete indifference or worse.
When Emma turned four, we hired a musician to come to the house and play kid friendly music before eating pizza and cake. Emma spent the entire hour and a half trying to lie inside the musician’s guitar case, while Richard and I tried, with little success, to entice her to join the party. The other children, many of whom were also diagnosed with autism, ran around, danced, sang along with the music or sat watching and listening with their mother or caregiver. Richard and I took turns excusing ourselves and each went separately into our bathroom where we allowed ourselves a few minutes to cry, before mustering up the strength to return to our guests, doing our best to act as though everything was fine.
It was also the year we had been called into a parent/teacher conference at her special education pre-school only to be told our daughter was a “red flag” and that she had “flat-lined” in her development. It was a tough year. A year Richard and I still refer to when we feel doubtful of Emma’s current progress. That year marked a time of desperation, sadness and a general feeling of impotence on our part. It seemed whatever therapy we tried, whatever medical interventions we took on, nothing made a difference.
This year, Emma not only told me where she wanted to have her party she also told me which of her friends she wanted to attend her party. Before she left Aspen (where I am currently snowed in) she listed all the people she wanted to invite. She was very specific. When I asked about a couple of children, she said simply, “No.” It was the same with the place. She wanted a specific place where she can play and do gymnastics with her friends. Afterwards we will order pizza, which Emma won’t eat, and cupcakes, which Emma will. I expect it will be a very different kind of party than five years ago when she turned four. Emma has come a long way in five years.