Thoughts from a family party

July 25, 2008 at 4:52 PM Leave a comment

We recently threw a 4th of July party for nearly fifty family and friends. Of the twenty or so kids who attended, two of the children had special needs. I made a point to observe how interaction within a large family group was for these children and their family members and learned a few tips in the process.

Joey,* a close friend’s fourteen year old son with autism was extremely outgoing. For the first hour he clung to his dad and wouldn’t leave his side, but after a while he warmed up to people, and enjoyed himself quite a bit. Later in the evening Joey was eating a cupcake and became very upset when blue frosting had fallen on his white t-shirt. He tried to clean his shirt with a paper towel only further smearing the stain. Within minutes his dad had a new white shirt from a bag for Joey to change into. However, this did not distract Joey for very long, he was still very upset about the white t-shirt being stained and smeared. I asked if there was anyway I could help, and Joey and I went upstairs, doused the shirt with stain remover and put it in the washer. The thought of the shirt becoming clean seemed to comfort him, and he went back to enjoying himself at the party. When his shirt was clean, he happily put it back on to wear.

Mark* my nephew is three years old and suffers from infantile spasms. Under no circumstance would he leave his parents’ sides.’ I spent some time with them, and simply tried to share in the things he enjoyed. Playing with his toys (his favorites are balloons), eating, and feeding our dog. We all went outside to watch the fireworks display and while he was distracted watching the fireworks his dad gave him to me to hold, and Mark didn’t even notice (As soon as he did notice he hollered for his Dad though!).

It is worth noting that Joey, who is fourteen, hung out with my son, who is sixteen, and his friends for almost all of the day. It’s also worth noting that my son dropped blue frosting all over his shirt and asked me to wash it as well. Similarly, every child under the age of 3 clung to his parents for most of the party.

In conclusion, I realize it is easy enough to plan ahead and ask the parents “is there anything I can do to accommodate your child’s needs ahead of time?” I know my sister-in-law was overwhelmed with certain toys and snacks that she knew Mark would like. We could have easily lightened the burden for her and added those snacks to our shopping list ahead of time. With Joey, we could have asked what activities he liked and added those as activities for the day. And lastly, I found the best way to deal with any child in a large family gathering is to simply ask the question “how can I help,” and then follow the parents’ lead.


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