As Callie’s birthday vastly approaches and he is becoming very excited about a day of fun with friends, I take a moment to reflect when planning his birthday party was just as heartbreaking as it was to attend it. Year after year, the only ones present were his Dad, his 3 brothers and myself. At first, I did not think anyone would come, considering Callie’s extreme loudness & meltdowns, as well as, people’s lack of knowledge of autism at the time. Therefore, I would close my eyes to the invitation aisle in stores and reopen only to buy the gifts he requested, a cake and balloons. Once he became a little older, I became a tad daring and would invite one or two of his classmates. . . .only to get a response of unavailable or no response at all. Callie didn’t seem to care, but I did. My other three children would invite friends. The friends responded. The friends came. But the operative word here is FRIENDS. Callie had none — only his brothers, who I am forever grateful to have. With them, Callie’s day was never a dull moment. We all made sure his day was the absolute best, even if it was us, every time, trying to outdo the last. Still I longed for the day my son would experience the bond of camaraderie, the blissfulness of receiving respect & support, the genuine care for his individuality & his heart. . .AND if nothing else hearing the birthday song sung by voices other than the familiar ones he heard each year.
Callie would soon see this and more when he had to change schools, going into the 5th grade. The school year prior was simply awful for him and that’s putting it mildly. So a fresh start was needed, but no matter how fresh the start was, it was the starting over that I feared. New faces & new environment had always been equivalent to non-acceptance, disrespect, judgmental faces & lack of confidence in his ability. . . .all resulting in no progress. But here at this particular new school, his last day ended as it had begun — extraordinary! We didn’t have to take the yellow brick road to Emerald City. We took one step and we were there. It was an atmosphere of pleasantness. I cried a lot the years before, but the tears I shed during Callie’s 5th grade year were ones of unimaginable joy. This was the first time he enjoyed school. He had teachers who actually liked him and cared about him, who saw his potential and never gave up when he fell. He had friends. FRIENDS. They treated him no different. They embraced him. Included him. Loved him.
Callie’s first birthday party ever (with friends) was in March of 2012. He turned 11. I watched his three teachers and 4 of his closest friends come and celebrate him. My husband and I had emotions that took us over as Callie opened his gifts. Each gift they had given was carefully chosen based on things they knew he liked. They didn’t ask me what he wanted. They had observed him and listened to him all year. . . .and they remembered. Beyond that, it was spring break, when most teachers and kids go away, but not these wonderful people. They were determined to make Callie’s day the best day ever and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Callie will be 13 this year and I look forward to seeing these same friends surround him with the amazing love they always do. Of course I will cry, as I always do because I have watched this child grow, develop and learn. There continues to be obstacles but looking back on this magical moment in time and holding dear all of his achievements, I rest in hope, knowing that it’s never too late for miracles to happen.