Celebrating my twins’ birthdays is extra challenging because one has autism

Every year as my twins’ birthdays approach, I feel in many ways the same as most parents do: A mixture of both happiness and sadness. This year they’re turning 13. They are getting older and things are changing in many ways, but it’s different for them because my son has autism.

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My son fits someplace in the middle of the autism spectrum. He is verbal, but his conversation skills are very limited. His words are often repetitive. We are working on getting him to express emotions appropriately. While my daughter is moving along in all aspects of her life — her education, her social life and her independence — my son still struggles and likely always will.

It’s important to me to make a big deal each year for their birthday, to give them both a celebration that they not only want but that they deserve as well. I want them both to always know how special they are, even though they are so different from each other.

For example, as soon as we hit the birthday month, my daughter will start to talk about it: How she wants to celebrate, how many different times we should celebrate and where and what she would like for presents. She loves to have a big party every year with all her friends there to help her celebrate.

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It is quite different for my son. I’m not entirely sure what the day means to him. I remind him that his birthday is soon, and we talk about it often. It takes some effort, but eventually he does get excited. I want him to feel like it is his day too, even though his sister’s enthusiasm can sometimes run the show.

There are a few things that have helped my son get prepared for his birthday. The first thing I do is make him a countdown calendar around three weeks before the big day. I use different colors, and each day he crosses off the previous day. Then we’ll look at pictures online and talk about things he wants. His interests are limited, so it is important that I find something that will really get his attention. He loves different stuffed animals, very specific books and DVDs, and some puzzles. We make a handwritten list and talk about what family members we can ask to get them for him. This gets him excited and gets him talking.

A few days before his actual birthday, we throw a party in his classroom. His classmates get excited once they see the party hats and cupcakes. He absolutely loves this. He will take my hand and pull me toward his seat, saying, “Mommy is here, Mommy is here.”

On their actual birthday, my daughter goes right for the presents, but balloons are way more interesting to my son than presents, so he usually goes for those first.

Even though they share the day, I want to try to give them each positive memories. I want them both to know how important they are. I always hope they are happy and feeling a little extra special. There will always be doubt that I am doing enough.

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