On the one hand I recognize Luke’s birthday as a happy occasion. I am always thankful to celebrate another year of being blessed to have him in my life. I joyfully make plans to take him somewhere exciting. I thoughtfully pick out a present for him and take pleasure in decorating the house with festive party favors; however, at the end of the day when my head hits my pillow and I have time to reflect, I feel as though someone has just punched me in the chest. The anxiety sets in.
For me, and I would imagine for a great many spectrum parents, birthdays are a reminder of the ticking clock – the sands of time running out of the hourglass. We’ve had it hammered into our heads about the importance of “early intervention” to produce the best outcomes. We know that we want to see speech develop by age five. Each year passing is one less year to accomplish these goals.
Each year Luke’s “uniqueness” becomes more obvious. A two-year-old who doesn’t speak is not such an uncommon thing, I’ve learned. But a three-year-old? A four-year-old? No one thinks twice about a toddler who plays with his fingers. Toddlers do all sorts of silly and strange looking things, but with each birthday, these “quirks” become more glaring to the objective observer.
It was for this reason that I was finding it very difficult to write this post. I wanted to acknowledge Luke’s birthday with an encouraging message of hope, but I wasn’t feeling so hopeful. I was actually feeling sort of depressed.
Then, this past Saturday night, we had a little party for Luke, and as I was watching him blow out the candles on his birthday cake for the very first time ever, I had a flashback of last year. There was no singing of “Happy Birthday.” There were no candles, because last year, Luke was absolutely terrified of fire.
His phobia was so intense that we would skip the candles and singing at everyone’s birthday to assuage him. It began as a fear of fire, but then spread to include everything he associated with fire. Eventually the birthday song, candles, flashlights, smoke or steam, and even cakes and pies were all off-limits. At its peak, other people could not even eat a slice of cake near him for his fear that it would spontaneously combust – and this was a child who once loved to eat cake!
As I thought on this, the rain cloud that had situated itself over my head began to lift, because this was the scene that played out in front of me that night.