“Me first!!” Catelyn yelled as I handed each of her friends a butter knife.
“Catelyn, I can’t get your name out of the center of the cake first – I mean it is right in the center! We have to cut around to even come close.”
“It’s my birthday! I should get first slice!” Catelyn screeched and started to tear up.
“I understand. I agree. It would just be easier to get the pieces out around your name in order to get to your name. How about you eat your cake first. I am sure everyone will wait.”
“I SAID NO! ME FIRST!”
The girls at her birthday party put their knives down. Corners of the cake were half sliced. One edge was partially cut. The knives were laid down.
“Okay,” I said, “Let’s see what I can do.”
The party had been going great. Catelyn’s birthday was back in December where we celebrate Christmas, New Years and Bobby’s birthday as well. To give her some special time away from the holiday whirlwind, we schedule something special for her in January.
Catelyn has always wanted friends. From a very young age, Catelyn was always interested in others to play with. She would walk in to a playground and count, “One, two, three, four…I have four new best friends I am going to play with. Bye!” And I would wave and stand on top of Declan as he played.
Yet when we left the playground, Catelyn had no friends. Girls with scowls would be pointing Catelyn out to their mothers and walking away. Undeterred by the girls, but annoyed she was now alone, Catelyn would march on and play by herself.
Birthday parties were always a struggle for Catelyn. She had wanted to invite friends, but as far as my husband and I knew – and from what Cate reported – she didn’t have any friends to invite.
Friends, a struggle to maintain in years past, had become something that Catelyn was focusing on in special meetings at school with the guidance counselor and in private therapy for the past two years.
And for two years now, Cate has been able to invite friends to her birthday party. And they come!
This year, Cate wanted to go roller skating. Not something every girl was good at, so for the most part, they stuck together.
They went out for pizza.
They made slime – for hours upon hours.
And then they had cake. Or at least to this point, were trying to.
As I cut the C-A-T-E-L-Y-N out of the cake, I grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns. Not to embarrass Cate, but to address the elephant in the room.
“It’s alright Cate. You can have the first slice.”
Cate took a deep breath, wiped her eyes and I addressed the girls in the room.
“I guess you guys have seen Cate get like this.”
They all nodded that yes, they have. One girl’s eyes got big and said, “Oh yeah.”
“What do you guys normally do?”
One girl shrugged.
Another replied, “Nothing. We just give her space to calm down.”
“Yeah,” another added. “It’s best just to let her calm down. When she is ready to play again, she does.”
The girls all nodded in agreement.
“Sounds like it works out then, huh?”
“Well, it looks like you guys can continue getting any slice you want of the cake.” I said as I pulled out Cate’s piece and put it on her plate.
The girls all picked up their knives again and pulled out the slices they favored.
And everyone enjoyed cake.
As far as I know, Cate has not told her friends that she is on the autism spectrum. I do not believe it is something that embarrasses Cate – it is just not something she uses to define herself.
(There is only one friend that I know that she told – a friend that seeks counseling for his own special needs. In that conversation she told this boy, “I see someone because I am affected by autism. What you will see when we are playing is that I sometimes have really big reactions to things and it takes me a while to calm down.”)
Cate has spent a lot of time in therapy and in counseling learning social skills. Working on her feelings. Working on how to handle different social situations.
But it also comes down to good friends. Girls that can look past big reactions and rigid thinking in their friend. Girls that are patient, non-judgmental and accepting. Girls that can let Cate be Cate, accept her, enjoy her company and have fun!
Those girls are the best girls!