Birthday Cheer

We were caught in that no man’s land between ordering our meal and its arrival, when Clay started to wail. Saturday night. People packed into booths and tables all around us. Harried waiter. Dishes clattering. Other diners sneaking glances at our table. Clay flailing and crying. What do we do?

We usually get take-out on Saturday night, since the possibility of this kind of scene makes it difficult to relax and enjoy a meal out. But it was Clay’s 15th birthday, and—given the choice on his keyboard—he requested the meal out. We suggested a restaurant that we know usually works for him and us. They have booths for controlling his wandering and a second floor set aside for families with small children (and loud teenagers with autism). They also have a telephone-book-size beer list and make a mean burger.

Birthdays can be emotional. For a lot of years they served as painful reminders of Clay’s regressions, and often ended with him melting down, my wife in tears and me looking up the symptoms of a heart attack on the Web at 2 a.m.

This year—not so much. Clay learning to communicate by typing on a keyboard over the past six months has made him more confident and less frustrated. Most important, he can communicate his wants. (The little guy has almost no control over his day, from what he eats to what he wears to what he does. I’m always humbled by his ability to live with the constraints of his world without losing his smile. He’s a better man than I am.)

A few days before his birthday, my wife got him in front of his keyboard.

“What do you want to do on your birthday?”

“Stay home.”

What a relief to know how he wanted to spend his day. No guilt from not doing enough. No pain from taking him someplace he didn’t want to go.

He did, however, want to go to a restaurant for dinner, and here we were. We are veterans of many restaurant meltdowns. In the past, when he became agitated we might have taken a walk, sat in the car for awhile or asked the waiter to pack the food to go. This time, we went right to the keyboard.

“What is wrong?”

“A little too noisy.”

“I know. It is loud in here. Are you OK to stay or do you want to leave?”

“Stay.”

So, we stayed, and he calmed down even though the noise level never dropped off.

Can’t wait to see what next year will bring.

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  1. #1 by Char Brandl on July 8, 2010 - 3:51 pm

    Another beautiful story. I have seen it happen over and over again. Typing gives our kids some control and everything starts to change once they are involved in the decision-making process. But it IS a process, after all, and there will be setbacks. Hang in there! Happy Birthday, Clay!

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