So today it is my (cough)th Birthday and I wanted to write this post not because I am expecting you to send a card but as a nod to all the parents for whom their birthdays can seem like extra lonely times, I wanted to let you know that you are not alone.
Our children love us, they really do but there are things about our birthdays that can make it a tough day for them and it may appear on the surface as if they resent us being the centre of attention for a day. It can be really upsetting but it is not personal, it’s not about you, it is about the nature of PDA.
The good news is there are ways you can make your Birthday a happy day and reduce stress for you and your child. Step one is understanding why they might find the day difficult.
Possible triggers for a PDA child on a parents birthday:
- The demand of it being your special day. Lots of things are expected of a child on special occasions, be good, be thoughtful, give a gift, put the other person first, etc. Now I really believe that any child wishes to do these things for a parent but for a PDA child these things are demands which makes it extra hard.
- Changes to routine. Although PDA children may not always be as rigid in their need for routine as other presentations of autism, changes outside of their control can upset them. You may have plans to go out or plans/changes may be more subtle like having breakfast in bed or having a lie in. Even the smallest of changes can wobble a PDA child.
- More visitors and/or phone calls. Under the visitors I also include things like postmen or delivery people. Anyone who knocks at the door can cause anxiety for a PDA child who may be wondering who it is, how long they might be staying or how they should be/are going to be expected to behave. Extra noise may also trigger sensory overload for them,
- You might behave differently. Your child may feel the air of expectation you have to enjoy yourself, you may seem distant because your attention is elsewhere even if you are not aware of it. You may also be feeling sad or worried about the day on behalf of your child. PDA children are extremely sensitive to others feelings and will pick up on the most subtle changes.
Now, due to all of the above, I have had some awful Birthdays often isolated and alone and one I particularly remember where I was intending getting myself a cake on the way home from school and my son point blank refused to allow me to do so. That particular birthday proved the catalyst for change as I broke down and my son was mortified. It opened us up to a long discussion the next day when we worked out how to make things easier.
Here are some of the things we came up with that day plus ones we have stumbled across by trial and error.
- Discuss ahead of time about your plans and what that will mean to your child.
- Where possible give them choices eg ‘Do you like join us or would you prefer to stay with Grandad?’
- Scale down your plans to make them achievable. perhaps have a friend over after your child is in bed rather than going out or ask family to stay at a hotel or another relatives rather than at your house so they are not around 24/7.
- Allow for changes, keep plans flexible so if your child melts down at the last moment you can produce another option.
- Perhaps do something together either instead of your adult plans or as well as. Bill it as a trip together more than a treat for you. I had a lovely birthday one year when my son and I went to the theatre together, a shared passion.
- Keep your cards etc. low key, perhaps in your bedroom maybe put them on display the next day when things have calmed down.
- Don’t insist they join in. If they wish to get you a gift perhaps open it with them quietly the night before, if they are happy in their room in their ipad or whatever then allow them to do that. Give them simple choices so they know they are welcome but not obliged. Offer reassurance that whatever they wish to do is ok.
- Try and keep as many aspects of the day as familiar as you can, such as meal times or walking the dog. it will give your child reassurance.
- Make a chart for the day so your child can see what is happening. I use an arrow shaped paper clip with it so I can slide it to the current event so my son does not get confused as to which part we are doing next when I use a timetable.
- Let them spend part or all of the day away if they wish and it is feasible. Today I will be spending a quiet morning/afternoon with my son and out with friends in the city tonight while my son stays at his dads. I know I am very fortunate to be in the position to be able to do this and it has only been a fairly recent development.
- Allow plenty of recovery time afterwards. I always make sure the day after a family event has nothing booked in so my son can use it as recovery time as he can get very overloaded.
- Finally remember it is only a day. If all else fails you can try again another day and pretend it is your birthday then. It is easy to blow it out of proportion and get really upset if things don’t work out but if we didn’t have calendars you would never even know this was the day you were born!
I hope some of these tips help. Now I am off to enjoy my day, I hope you enjoy yours too, Birthday or not.