Home > In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – I Want to Have a Party!

In Their Own Words – I Want to Have a Party!

This “In Their Own Words” essay was submitted by Edwinna McHale, who has a son with autism.

My son asked a question today! But, you might ask, why is that such a big deal?  Every three year old asks questions, don’t they?  They just drive you nuts with questions, don’t they?

Of course they do, but my child is 13. Never before today had he asked a question just to get information. Not, at least, without a monumental amount of effort, prompting and scripting. Today, as we were repeatedly circling the parking lot trying to find a space close enough to the clinic door, with the irritation that can only be a boy of 13 who has lost patience, he asked me “Why are we driving around in circles?”

And now I want to have a party!  When you walk the autism road, you celebrate the smallest accomplishments. Sometimes, they are the only kind of accomplishments you have to celebrate.

Tommy learned early on, how to ask questions to get things he wants – like asking for food.  But, most three-year-olds start to look for information. Why do things work this way? Who is that person? Where are they going? When will we get there? What are you doing? Until today, the only spontaneous questions my son has ever asked was when he wants something. “Mom, may I have a Diet Coke, please?”  “Mom, can we go to McDonald’s, please?” But never, before today, has he asked a question in order to obtain information. And never before today, has he actually listened to any answer more complex than “Yes” or “No.”

When he was four, I wondered if I ever would hear him tell me “I love you, Mommy.” I never did. When he was six, I would say, “I love you, Tommy.” And he would answer “Me, too.” But it was not until about three years ago, that he spontaneously said “I love you, Mom” for the first time in his life. He was already too old to be willing to call me ‘Mommy” but he could, at long last, tell me that he loves me!  I wanted to have a party then, too.

We wanted to have a party when he was five and got dressed by himself for the first time. When he was six and a half and was able to pick out a complete outfit for school the next day. When he was eight, and he could tell me “My tummy feels sick.” Such small things, really.  Most parents take them for granted.  It’s just a natural part of growing up, and all kids do it, right?

But for a child with autism, even learning how to look at a friend, smile, and say “Hi!” is a process that can take years. And suddenly, one day, without any warning, HE DOES IT! And we want to celebrate. People ask me why such small things warrant a celebration. I tell them that they will never know how hard it was to get here, but the fact that the journey was hard is reason enough to celebrate when we get here.

I am thankful that my child has taught me to appreciate and celebrate the small victories, and to truly understand how monumental those small victories really are.

So, my son asked a question today, and I want to have a PARTY!

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.


  1. Barbara Pons
    July 14, 2010 at 9:24 am

    That is so funny because i feel the same way about celebrating the small things my son learns. One day about 1 year ago my son was 9 years old and came home from school saying mommy mommy mommy I want to show you something. He said LOOK!!! I told him to hold on. He kept hounding me until I finally said ok what? Well he bent over and starting showing me how he learned how to tie his shoes. OMG that was huge!!! I was so happy….he finally learned how to tie his shoes. We also have many of these kinds of days where I want to just tell the whole world. I get on the phone and call his nana, his auntie, his grandfather and his cousins. I call everyone!! Thanks for sharing!!!!

  2. Vee
    July 14, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Every accomplishment my twins on the spectrum make also calls for a party! I can relate to that feeling everyday. Keep celebrating the “small stuff” because we know that when it comes to our kids, no accomplishment is too small.

  3. Linda Geist
    July 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Dear Edwinna, I want to have a party for you! My son is 8 and also has autism. Today he actually told me that he watches Tom & Jerry in school with two other students…I almost fell off the chair. It was the first time he ever told me what he does in school and the first time he mentioned any friends. I totally understand your excitement. God Blees him.

  4. Melissa M
    July 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    My daughter is 3 and was diagnosed with ASD in April. She has been progressing wonderfully with therapy, but still has some terrible food issues. Her Speech Therapist that is working with her has been working with her diet. He got her to eat a pretzel the other day (and yes just one). I was so happy I called my whole family. Some were like, it’s just a pretzel, but I was thinking eventually it will be something else! What a happy moment for you! I can only imagine the day when my daughter starts talking without scripting or prompting, which is all she does now. It gives me a wonderful thing to look forward too.

  5. Anita Jones
    July 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    CONGRATS!!!! I know just how you feel! A lot of people don’t understand why I would want to feel like I want to party or have tears in my eyes when my Son says or does something that we worked really hard on. It is good to know that there are others out there that know what we are going through and also want to celebrate with us. :o)

  6. John
    July 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I’m so happy for you and your son. I want you to know that your story made my day. Very few people understand why this “small accomplishment” is so big. I understand. I’m still waiting for the day my son begins a sentence with “why” or “what”. Sometimes I begin to lose hope. Then I read something like this and my hope is renewed. Thank you for helping me and yipeeeeeeee for your son!

  7. July 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    My 3-year-old pointed out an airplane in the sky for the first time recently, that felt really awesome, she had never pointed at anything other than food until then, so I get it :)

  8. Timbe
    July 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    WOW! I want to have a party for you. That is awesome. I am the proud mother of a 4 year old who is autistic and he said “I want tickles please, mom” yesterday for the first time and we celebrated. He hasn’t called me mom since he was beginning to babble as an infant. Even better, he told me what he wanted in a full sentence. The most simple of things can be huge in our world. I’m really happy for you and your son and excited for what is yet to come. God bless

  9. Timbe
    July 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    P.S. Thank you for the happy tears :)

  10. July 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Love you story. Cograts to you and your son.My son has asked to have a birthday party we have not had one yetdue to the fact the other children he goes to school with do not live anywhere near us. We live in Delaware County, Penna There are no support groups or anything out here. I read these blogs everyday and everyone of them brings tears to my eyes. Im so happy for you and i hop one day we can have a party. We hope to move next year after he finishes this program. also your right every little (big) step our children make is cause for celebration!!! Lisa Mango

  11. Patricia Hubbard
    July 14, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I am so happy for you and your son. Many Many MORE PARTIES!!!!!!!!!! p.s. I have a grandaughter with autism. She is so smart, and I have had plenty of parties for her.

  12. Amy
    July 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Have a WONDERFUL party!!! My own son asked his first “why?” question the other day, I was driving and I kid you not, nearly drove right into a tree. Wanted to shot it from the rooftop…but, knowing that NO ONE around would understand, nor think I was sane…I decided against it. And, to top it all off he just came home and started working on his computer like the world hadn’t changed. Party of one that day, but what a GREAT party!!!!!

  13. Nicole Del Purgatorio
    July 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    My 14yr old Austistic son was put under for a mri to see if he had a brain trumor.During this procedure his lungs filled up with fluid and we almost lost him.There is a trumor but no cancer.For three days we were in the hospital for EEG…Throught the whole time I did not cry…He needed me to be strong.The last day the nurse noticed he was getting sick of sitting in bed and said “Robert I know u are tired of sitting in bed, how long has it been now?” My son, who can’t even tell me he has a tummy ache looks right at the nurse and says ” 3 days and I am done now”. I cried like a baby. The nurse looked at me like I was nuts.Thank u so much for sharing.

  14. Katrina
    July 14, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I am so happy for you and your son! I know what you mean! We went on a real vacation this year for the first time in years and my son Christian totally walked into the bathroom without a melt down! Bathrooms are not his strongest point and he is overcoming slowly. :))

  15. Rory Comiskey
    July 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

    …sometimes I think my son, throws out a “break-thru’ moment just to give “me” support ! ….but, yes those little things others take for granted bring such joy.
    My 14 year old son Declan does the food sentence thing as well as other requests….I love you Declan from me is usally returned with I love you Declan, rather than I love you Dad……but sometimes he gets it right….small things brings smiles..never realized how importnat a smile could be….I hold onto everyone of them Regards, Rory

  16. July 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I’m so happy for you! I almost did a backflip when I picked my 4-year-old up from preschool and the teacher told me that he’d turned to the girl next to him and said, “stop touching me!” Yesterday, during ABA, he said, loud enough for the whole house to hear, “I’M TIRED!”

  17. Diane Tufts
    July 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I’m so glad you shared that. It made my day, and it reminded me of similar moments in my own family. I’m still grateful for every one. Other moms are thrilled when their child first says “mama”. One of my best moments was when a friend told me my son had made a baby sign we’d taught him for “mom” and was looking around for me when I was out of the room. He had never asked for me before. My mouth fell open the first time he imitated a sound I was making when reading him a bedtime story. Children are supposed to imitate everything, but mine didn’t talk and had never imitated anything ever. More recently,I especially remember a day when my son was practicing for the middle school swim team. We had plenty of struggles dealing with competition and motor planning for different swim strokes and the general noise level. But on this day, after 2 hours of almost continuous swimming, which I know calms him and helps him feel more balanced, my son very casually looked my friend who was standing next to me RIGHT IN THE EYE and ASKED HOW SHE WAS DOING. Completely ordinary for any other child I know, but for my son, that just didn’t happen. She had known our family for a long time, and it completely blew her away, too. I was floating on a cloud for days after.

  18. stacey
    July 29, 2010 at 12:09 am

    wow i can relate to that. My son jacob is 5 he’s never said i love you mommy. i pray some day he’ll say it to me on his own..when i say i love you Jacob he says nothing…i do get him to 1/2 repeat me with wisper wove oh…that is the hope i hold on to.I do know he loves me in his own wy though..im the one one he’ll let help him in the bathroom or with getting him dressed or even getting him his chocolate milk or food at home.yes i know these are all nessesitys for him.But one thing he’ll share with me are is drawings time to time…he draws he has stuck in his head ie..pics of foxes or lions or dinosours..these are the things he ficates on…it started when he first drew on his bedroom walls large drawings of foxes with a red sharpie!when i asked him why he said “it was stuck..stuck in my head”…so we know keep him supplyed with lots of paper and pencils…its working he draws for hours at a time every day…and now if he moves on to drawing on the walls its in pencil so now it will wash off which happens more and more infrequently now its all on the stacks off papper on his desk!

  19. BW
    August 8, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I have (mild-high functioning) autism, been through lots of therapy growing up, still have a worker I see about once a month or so, and am now a young adult. I am also hard-of-hearing/Deaf, born 40% loss, now about 80%loss (you’ll see importance of fact soon).

    Tips that may lead to opportunities for parties, from personal experience:

    1. Try using a signed language… (American Sign Language is real, complete as any other language, fulfilling, and rich. Signed English will get you started academically, though not as easy to use for natural story-telling experiences, still okay.)

    Sometimes have trouble sharing my world and wish others can see it too. My signing can help because it is very visual way when my speaking words are not able to do it, or if just no English words, I can usually express myself in American Sign Language (ASL) as it is different.
    (I started better opening up and communicating willfully when I was enrolled in grade 2 into a small classroom with other signing Deaf and hard-of-hearing children, in sort of special all-day class (this is when I started to learning signing as an everyday language for all manner of subjects abstract and concrete). That is when I finally actually started paying attention to others for content. I vividly remember my first day, I actually hugged my classmates, first time I ever did that. In hindsight, regrettable perhaps as maybe I crossed a social boundary line to others, but for me it was a big out-of-shell moment and that was MY party!)

    2. Make paper signs for child to let you know how they are feeling, encourage them to reflect on themselves at the present, have them make faces (human, animal, alien, whatever floats the boat) and/or symbols to match their inside feelings, and find words they understand relating to it. Use a combination of these to make options for the child on a sheet of blank printer paper or coloured paper they like. (Otherwise have 1 paper for each feeling, and just have them hang up the one they want at the moment.)
    This may help start the day on a better ground by being prepared based on their current state. From there, well, you know your child. It’s in your hands.
    You can even make signs for other family members, for feedback for everyone including the hope that the ones with autism will begin to pick up on it. So, more party!

    I moved to a new house, but still have a sibling and their domestic-relation person with me, we share house. Sometimes I deal with ups/downs, etc. by posting signs on my door with options about how I’m feeling: overall today, and how I’m feeling: at the moment.
    My door signs include ASL handshapes and pictures of ASL signs, written English, and some with drawn faces or my symbols of how I feel.

    How to make an options sign easy to use: Take a sticker backing, cut into strip the length of the options altogether, tape it beside the options you and child made. Use child’s current favourite sticker to mark which option they feel. (The sticker backing strip for easy sticker reuse.)

    3. Read for the need of when communication has become exhaustive, but still the need for human presence exists. (Ones who don’t like to be alone, but untalkative at the moment especially.)

    Sometimes I want “quiet” companionship. I don’t want to actually “communicate” in a “verbal” sense. I want us to just “be”. Maybe a smile, sitting just an inch closer, a nod of recognizing presence occasionally. Just the company. (Sometimes I appreciate touch/contact, sometimes it’s physically irritating– there goes the little streaker ones, eh? Also, yes, apparently I did the stiff-board-baby sometimes, too.)
    My personality of being affectionate can win over my introvert-moments from autism in this sense. My mom could throw a party, because all of us make efforts, together, somehow. (My personal dog would probably come more for cake crumbs dropped than the fact that my dog is always with me. Wink!)

    4. Thought time! How do friendly animals share quiet time with people or each other? Sometimes the same with kids… (I like kids and was one too, so no insult here!) Homework is done, now go have that PARTY!

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