Vancouver boy on the autism spectrum has tons of kids coming to his birthday this year

May 9 2023, 11:37 pm

A year ago, only one classmate showed up at little Max’s birthday party in Richmond. But this year, the soon-to-be seven-year-old is set for a big celebration.

Max’s father, David Chen, posted the heartbreaking story that only one out of 19 classmates showed up to Max’s birthday party last year, and the story received overwhelming responses.

Chen shared that Max is on the autism spectrum and that it was really heartwarming to have others reach out about their own struggles with being accepted.

Some were from parents whose children had experienced similar lonely birthdays. Others were grown-ups who still remembered distinctly how it felt to be in Max’s position.

“One of the respondents said, ‘I remember this 30 years ago.’ So when someone asked me, “Well, how is Max handling it?’ The only response I could give was, ‘I’ll know in 30 years.’ I had no idea that something this simple in our minds could have such a long-lasting traumatic impact,” Chen told Daily Hive.

But this year is very different.

On top of sending invitations to his entire class again, they invited dozens of new friends who have something in common with Max, children who are also on the autism spectrum.

Sound like your kind of party? You could still join the big bash through the organization AutismBC but would only be put on the waitlist. Because the party was fully booked within an hour once the family sent the invites.

“I was shocked at how popular it was, Chen said. “Maybe in the future, we can try to expand this. I think that it is a good thing for us to maybe turn it into an annual event. And this can only get better!”

The hopeful tone is a stark contrast to the empty feeling that struck Chen when he looked at the almost deserted party room last year. Nevertheless, he called what followed more troubling.

“Those really heartbreaking responses from so many people who said that happened to them, I think it was the first realization that this is not as isolated as we think,” Chen said. “So I looked at that as maybe we can learn from this and turn this around.”

Chen created a guide of what he called Birthday 101 so parents could be more thoughtful in the party-planning process.

He explained that neurodiverse children, for instance, find it challenging to comprehend that a birthday party is about celebrating the birthday kid and therefore believe it should be normal for them to have a cake with a candle as well. Chen suggested in the guide to offer everyone cupcakes with a candle so they feel like they have their own birthday cake and it’s their party too.

Chen stressed he didn’t intend to push everyone to be friends with the different kids in class but wanted to create natural bonds through constant inclusion. And that started with turning a small rite of passage into bonding opportunities. It was important for kids to show up for the party and for everyone to be invited.

“As much as we preach about acceptance and inclusion, to be very frank, difference scares people. And it’s not because they’re evil. It’s because they don’t know how to deal with that,” said Chen.

Chen hopes the party would be a chance for Max’s classmates to see there are other neurodiverse kids too.

Max now has about four friends from school he plays with on a consistent basis, a step forward compared to a year ago. However, Chen revealed some parents still found it awkward to ask about Max’s condition.

“I want parents to know neurodiverse kids want the same things as everybody else. They like to feel good. They want to have friends. They want to laugh. You know, they want to have a life where they are a positive influence on other people as well.”

Regina NgRegina Ng

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