Birthday parties can be stressful to plan, but they are also usually fun. But when your chid is has autism and bipolar disorder, there can sometimes be more negative than positive.
Parenting Special Needs

Save a Seat for Mental Illness

Birthday parties can be stressful to plan, but they are also usually fun. But when your chid is has autism and bipolar disorder, there can sometimes be more negative than positive.

By Courtney Barnum of A Legion for Liam

As a parent, a child’s birthday is such a bittersweet time. Celebrating their special day with family and friends is always nice. Yet there seems to be a part of us that wishes our children could stay a certain age forever. For us, however, planning these big days is so much more.

Typically, planning a big day means finding a venue. Do you have it at home, or at the park, maybe at a place designed for kids? (Of course, money is usually a factor here.) Then, it’s letting your child pick their theme for plates and all the other fun stuff that goes with their special day. So exciting, right?

Not for us.I mean, it is, but it isn’t. You see, Liam isn’t just Autistic. Oh no. Apparently, that alone wasn’t enough of a challenge. He has many other comorbids, but the hardest is the Bipolar Disorder. This happens to remind us every year around his birthday that it’s here, and it’s in charge. As he gets older, it seems to become worse.

His eighth birthday was spent in the Emergency Room because his new med cocktail included Risperdal. He had severe reactions to it, including Dyskinesia, swelling throat, Parkinson’s like tics, abnormal muscle movements and more. Thankfully, we caught it quick enough that they were able to administer some counteracting medications, and in a few hours we were headed home.

His ninth birthday was terrible as well. He was in such a deep depressive cycle that he wasn’t even really “there.” We skipped having a party and took him to his favorite swimming hole for the day. We thought the fresh air and nature fun would help. It was super hot that day, but all the swimming, fishing and catching critters did nothing to help. It was like celebrating with a zombie. I have two pictures from that birthday, and I can’t even look at them. I can see the pain in his face and my heart just aches.

So while many families work to plan a perfect celebration of their child’s birth, our planning process involves so much more. We need to have a plan in place to cancel the event if need be. Which for us, means letting our guests know that the party could be canceled last minute. (This is especially important as a few of his friends and cousin are Autistic, too, and we know how last minute isn’t great for auties.)

If he insists on having a celebration anyway (which is fine because why let the BP win?) we have to prepare guests for how he may be. That means letting them know he may not speak. He won’t smile. Usually hyper and energetic, Liam will be withdrawn and sluggish instead. When you look at him, he won’t “look” like he’s there. He will open his gifts with definite lackluster, but not because he doesn’t appreciate them; because at the moment, his mind WON’T LET HIM.  It’s daunting, to say the least, and important that our friends and family prepare their kids.

Please understand, I’m not writing or sharing this post for attention. I don’t want people to think we want sympathy. I promise you, we don’t. What we do want is to educate others about mental illness and children. It’s real. It’s tangible. It’s hell. But we not only survive, we thrive. We just do it differently than everyone else. 

This post was originally published on A Legion for Liam


About the Author

My name is Courtney and I am a SAHM. I prefer domestic goddess, but whatever. My son Liam is autistic, he also has SPD, Pediatric Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, OCD tendencies, ODD and anxiety. He is (almost) 10 years old, and my world revolves around him. He is the child I was told I would never have. He IS MY MIRACLE!