Something quite miraculous occurred in the life of my son.
We had a birthday party.
Not just any party.
A real, bona fide, joyful, fun, everyone-into-it birthday party, with Peter’s teen friends, no less.
I honestly did not know if such a thing was possible. Because all of the kids at the party have autism, and two are nearly nonverbal, with pretty severe dyspraxia as well. This is how it happened.
It was a warm, sunny day at the park. The kids (I’ll call them “V”, “T”, and “S”) drifted in at different times to our picnic table. A fried chicken and chicken tenders/fries lunch was laid out and the kids and their mothers chatted as they ate. The difference was we used AC (typing) to chat. Peter’s friend V brought him a book for a present so they talked about reading- so cute, when asked who his favorite author is, Peter typed, “I like Beverly Cleary.”
When all four were done with lunch, we gathered around another picnic table upon which we had taped a big long piece of white butcher paper. I had the kids sit in two pairs opposite each other and handed round little squares of different colored sticky note paper. The game rules were simple. Start from your end and lay down different colors of paper (no two in a row alike) toward your partner, but you have to match your partner (so you have to pay attention to your teammate, and incidentally the design turns out symmetrical). First team pair to meet in the middle wins. Then we did it with matching stickers, then with colored design tape cut no longer than an inch (the dyspraxic kids got to use a tape dispenser as an accommodation, but the others had to use scissors). The results were amazing! I couldn’t believe how fast even the dyspraxic kids got going, and the butcher paper was really colorful and pretty at the end. As Peter put it, “It was a fine and energetic game.” We made such a happy hulabaloo that other moms in the park started coming over to see what was going on. Then the kids decorated their initials with opalescent sticker dots between the decorative strips they had created. We cut the paper so each child had a “poster” to home (that could alternatively be used as a book cover or piece of wrapping paper).
Instead of the traditional birthday cake, we set up a “cupcake bar.” Each child got to pick his favorite topping to be the server of (so he could eat up the leftovers). The toppings were healthy- different kinds of cut up fruits, mango, strawberry, and kiwi- and nuts. Each child got a plate with a chocolate cupcake and dollop of whipped cream, and had to select his own toppings by asking the server to put a little, a lot, more, etc. on top. At the end, the group had created a little panoply of colorful custom-made cupcakes together, and sang happy birthday. Peter really got into it and gustily “blew out” a pretend flame on the candle on his cupcake (forgot the matches, and too windy to light a real flame anyway).
By then, it was 2 1/4 hours later, and Peter was saying, “Car-ride, home,” over and over. I thought he had probably had enough, but I knew previously he had hoped we’d do his favorite game, creating a group story together. He had even picked out a topic, “The Perfect Day,” ahead of time. So I quietly asked him, “Peter, have you had enough? We can end now and go home, and do the story another day.” To my surprise, Peter typed back, “No, I want story.”
So here’s how it went. (Each writer’s name is on the left with a colon after it.)
“Peter’s Perfect Day”
Mom: Once upon a time there lived a boy named Peter. He was
Luke (Peter’s little brother): smart,
S: (verbally) I like him, I like him! (likable), and
Mom: One day his friend V called up. “Hey Peter I’ve got an idea for something we could do for your birthday. Let’s
V: “lets go sailing in a yacht.”
Mom: But then, T called. “Just a minute, V, I’ve got another call coming in. Hold on while I put you on call-waiting a sec” said Peter.
T said, “Hey Peter I heard it’s your birthday. Let’s
T: “lets go to the beacch”
Mom: Just a minute,” said Peter. I’ve got another call coming in. It was S.
“Hey Peter, let’s
S: (typing) go to the beach. (verbally) July! July!”
Mom: “I wish it was July,” he said, “so the water would be warmer, but at least today…,”
Peter interrupted, “We can all
Peter: “go on V’s yacht!”
Mom: So the four friends did just that,
Peter: and had a great time!
Peter was totally satisfied. All the children wore huge grins. Looking at their faces as they typed, leaning forward, anxious to see what the next would write, with huge smiles and huge reactions- it was truly beautiful. In their imaginations they could do anything, and they were there, sailing on a yacht on a warm, sunny day, together.
I’ve been working pretty hard this year taking a terrific online course on floortime through a fabulous organization called “Profectum” (I highly recommend it, and they have courses for both professionals and parents- the webinars are superb with remarkable, talented teachers showing videos of their work with children to make the process tangible and clear). During the course, I worked with each one of these children individually, so I knew their challenges and capabilities. To me the party was a clear illustration of the magic of floortime, when children receive the support (such as AC, tape dispenser, structure of the games and story template, but also high affect, gestures, and other scaffolding) of their individual differences that they need to express themselves and reveal their beautiful personalities.
Like most magical moments, I didn’t expect it. I took the Profectum class for Peter’s sake, so I’d be better at helping him along in his development. I feel like I got much more than I paid for. True, I spent hours and hours of time in class, listening to lectures, working with children, and viewing hundreds of floortime videoclips. All of this resulted in what I’d hoped for- to get floortime more “in my bones.” But what I received was beyond my expectations- a beautiful gift, to see my child enjoy real friendship with all its richness of joy, laughter, creativity, and shared experience, a blessing from above, a bit of heaven.