There’s always that looming fear as parents that our kids may struggle socially. Of course you want them to have friends and build special relationships with their peers, but what happens when your kid is seen as “different” and making friends just isn’t as easy for them as it was for you?
David Chen planned a sixth birthday party for his son Max at an indoor playground and invited 19 children from his class at school. However, when the big day came, only one of Max’s classmates showed up to celebrate him.
“My autism spectrum disorder kid is the different kid in the class,” Chen wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of the empty indoor playground. “We invited all his classmates to his birthday party today & only 1 showed up.”
Chen wondered how to go even go about explaining this to his neurodivergent son, the one kid who bothered to show up, and that boy’s mom.
“Difficult to explain to my kid & that kid’s mom that only one classmate came. Not making assumptions but still an empty feeling day,” he wrote.
One concerned Twitter user wondered how this could possibly happen. “Did they RSVP and then no show? Who the F does that?!?”
Chen responded, “No RSVP’s, just crickets. I couldn’t back out and disappoint my kid and the one classmate who came.”
Several Twitter users offered their condolences to the dad-son duo, asking if there was anything that would cheer up the disappointed boy. “Wish him a happy birthday from the twitter universe. Is there anything we can do to make his day special?”
Chen explained that he had already taken measures into his own hands and struck a deal with the boy’s school to get them to throw a party for Max during school hours.
“I made a deal with the teacher to have a party for him in class using the excuse that I had already purchased all the goody bag stuff & had no way to use them. I hope that will fix this but putting this out there so other parents can see what can go terribly wrong,” he replied.
After the tweet went viral, Chen and his son started getting offers from the community to make up for the party foul, including a soccer game and special ride in a police car with the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.
Canadian theme park 365 Fundays even offered to fund a “redo” for Max. “https://365fundays.ca has graciously offered to sponsor a redo party for Max. We’ve asked that it be turned into a graduation celebration for his class as a thank you to all for being such a supportive community. Everyone agrees this is a good way to be inclusive & heal wounds,” Chen revealed.
As for the response from the general public, neurgodivergent folks and parents of neurodivergent children poured into Chen’s replies with words of support and empathy.
One Twitter user responded that they identified with Max as they were also a “weird kid,” and noted that sometimes less is more.
“As I got older it was easier to go [do] something bigger with less people than have a big party. My parents would often take 2 or 3 friends to the city for a day at discovery zone or even Medieval Times. I was the [weird] kid...” they tweeted.
“When I was younger, I was also the weird kid for different reasons. Things only improved when I stopped caring about what others thought about me & did things that made me feel that I positively impacted others. That however takes a lot of inner strength to get past being weird,” Chen replied.
Another user tweeted, “sad to hear that times haven’t changed from when I was a child. Many happy returns for your son from a 33 year old autistic kid.”
A parent of a neurgodiverent child sent her condolences and explained that their birthday parties are “family only” to avoid the disappointment. “My son is ND. He doesn’t have any friends. I can relate to your experience. We don’t have birthdays with friends invited. We make excuses why it is family only birthdays. This makes my heart break. Happy birthday buddy!!” they wrote.
While it’s easy to find the worst in this scenario and judge all the parents who did not RSVP to the event, there might be a plot twist to this story. Chen told Global News Canada that some of the parents from Max’s class reached out to him after the tweet went viral, claiming the email invite had been sent to the spam inbox and wasn’t seen, which he said is “a fantastic start...We can learn from this.”
He also advocated for schools to have a fund for private class parties so that instances like this do not occur. “Every child needs to be celebrated at least once by their daily peers. School is where friendships start and this rite of passage can hurt,” he said.