Lil D is turning 12 this weekend. With this joyous occasion, we yet again face the dilemma that comes up every year – how do you make the day special for a boy who doesn’t realize it’s his birthday, who doesn’t have any particular thing that he likes, who will probably get upset if any sort of celebration pushes him out of his realm of comfort?
In the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst problem in the world. But every year, it’s another nagging reminder of how different Lil D’s life is from our other two children. Unlike many other autistic children (and yet again, I will bring up that old adage that if you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child), Lil D has nothing that he especially likes. He is not into any particular video game, he doesn’t spend hours playing a particular app on his iPad (he uses it to communicate), he doesn’t fixate on a television program; there’s no toy or electronic gadget that holds his attention.
In the past, come birthday (and Eid) time, I’ve sent suggestions to the family for big presents that everyone can chip in on – a rocking chair for his room, his iPad (one of the greatest gifts EVER), or a three-wheeled bike. This has worked very well, as all three items are things he uses for school or for therapy.
But this year I am at a loss. What does he need? Well, a new bed, perhaps, since he has broken the slats on his current one several times over during the severe meltdowns of the past several months. But that doesn’t seem like a birthday-like gift to me. For once, I’d love to be able to give Lil D presents that makes his face light up, see him play with them, see him use them for fun, not therapy or daily living or learning.
I’d like to give him a birthday party where we invite his friends over and they do some cool, appropriate 12-year-old boy activities. But, other than his rock-star sister and little brother, Lil D has no friends to speak of. He was certainly part of the student body in school last year – the boys and girls said “hi” to him in the hallways, ate lunch with him, and signed his fifth grade graduation t-shirt on the last day of school. I am very thankful for that.
But a friend? Someone he hangs out with, does things with? No.
I think birthdays and other celebratory holidays are as much for the giver as they are for the guest of honor. And, this is where I get trapped. His birthday comes, and though I strive to make it an extra good day for him, I often feel inadequate that he cannot experience his birthday the way I want him too.
The way I want him to. There’s the rub. Because it shouldn’t be about me. It’s about him.
Although I cannot speak 100 percent for what goes through Lil D’s mind — what he is thinking, what he is feeling, what he feels left out of, what he is happy about – I am pretty sure that he doesn’t miss anything when his birthday, or the Eid holidays, or any other special occasion comes around.
As the guest of honor, I’m pretty sure Lil D is happy if his Dadima (paternal grandmother) or I make his favorite Hyderabadi biryani for dinner, maybe spaghetti or kichiri-keema (a lentil and rice dish with ground beef) for lunch. If he gets a brownie to eat, or a piece of chocolate cake, maybe a whole Kit-Kat to himself, he is a happy boy. If he gets to spend some time, one-on-one with us, especially with his father, his face lights up.
So, what does he want from us? To be loved and cared for; for us to relentlessly search for the therapies, education and medical interventions that will improve his quality life, for us to help him find his voice. For us to always be there for him. For us to pray for him. For us to understand that he is a gift to us, an angel on earth lent to us, something greater, more beautiful and stronger, more compassionate, more trusting, more accepting, and more loving than we can ever hope to comprehend.
He will always have that from us. Today, tomorrow, on his birthday, on the day after his birthday.
So I’ll let the birthday expectations go and remind myself that 12 years ago, God thought, in His infinite wisdom, that my husband and I were worthy enough to have Lil D. There are too many awful things that happen in this world, too many things that make no sense, for us not to remember how very lucky we are.
Happy Birthday Lil D. I hope you enjoy your biryani.