Authors note: This was drafted on March 7- a month ago. But not posted… See “Why I don’t blog like I used to” for explanation… Ray spent the evening at his friend’s house, because Elizabeth had decreed this a “Girl Only” party.
Elizabeth’s birthday party just so captured her essence…Her 11th birthday party just absolutely demonstrated HER- her autism, her abilities, and her humor.
There were 10 girls invited- all but Emily came.. Emily who has been a best friend for years. Emily who has traveled with us, gone through drama together, and understood Elizabeth and her quirks. Emily who has new friends now on a travel athletic team and is growing faster and faster ahead. Emily who decided that she didn’t want to come because she didn’t like some of activities or the other girls. There was grief that Emily didn’t come, but for the night, it was pushed to the background. In protective Elizabeth fashion, when strong emotion threatens, she is able to put it aside and blank it out. Autism as emotional armor. When there are no words and the grief is too big, Emily retreats into a happy, stimmy place.
The theme was a “Spa Party”- and there were enough happy, stimmy, sensory activities to drown out the sadness. There were facials- homemade of course. Oatmeal mixed with honey and smeared on faces to dry. Elizabeth happily smeared hers on and lay down with a blissful smile. The other girls were… not as excited, but interested in the novelty. There were lots of little jewels and sticky things to glue onto glass jars and make “beauty organizers” while putting little things into rows and columns. There was a soap-making station in which girls mixed and poured and added smelly things to make soap. And there was a bow-making station where girls could make a bow and pin them in their hair- and redo it, over and over again.
I use the word “station” in the teacher-meaning of the word. Elizabeth organized her party like a differentiated classroom- and I mean she did it all. I made suggestions, but she came up with the process.
- She put 9 girls into 3 groups- thinking about who got along with whom, who was more sensitive and who would encourage others. She analyzed the dynamics and made placement decisions and provided each girl with a card as they came in to let them know their individual schedules.
- She arranged the stations around the house so that there could be movement between stations and allow room for activities.
- She had timers at each station so that girls would rotate through 4 stations in an hour.
- She provided materials at each station that were selected for the girls in that group- Tracy got a red bow, Faith got a blue bow, etc.
- She provided choices, but allocated out the supplies- each group got the same number of jewels to share among the three girls in that group.
- She started with a whole group spa eating activity (yogurt and strawberries) as girls showed up, had the stations, pizza, a whole group movie- “13 going on 30″ and and then games as girls were picked up.
James and I were used as monitors and supervisors, but she came up with the ideas and was clearly in charge of everything. I have seen teachers with 10 years of experience with less organization.
Another Author’s note- I fell more in love with my husband as I watched him working with 3 pre-teen girls at a time, calmly helping them pour smelly soap stuff and trying to figure out directions at the same time, and then moving them on to the next station when his timer went off. The world of Girldom is not a comfortable one for him and he handled it like a pro.
And as I worked , much as a paraprofessional might, handling the tasks of the facial station, I thought about her future- how clearly, teaching or wedding planning or something where she can move people around and engage in happy stimmy activities might be in her future. I thought about how turning 11 was so much less scary for me than her turning 3. I thought about how much things change- and how much they stay the same.
She’s 11- and she is finally, finally growing into herself where autism has become part of who she is- where autism that used to be a challenge to overcome has been hurtled and is now sometimes a strength- rather than interfering with who she is becoming. I marvel at her journey she has accomplished- and where she is going. I can look forward with hope and anticipation now, rather than with fear.