Yesterday, 2nd January 2015 was Ellen’s 18th Birthday. I couldn’t help thinking as I looked back over some photos of her as a baby, that my twenty-six year old self had absolutely no idea of what the next eighteen years would hold. Of course it hasn’t been plain sailing, frequently choppy with stormy elements if I’m honest, although even the parents of a non-autistic child have their difficult moments. But last night, as we celebrated her 18th Birthday surrounded by friends and family I was overwhelmed with pride at the young woman she has turned out to be.
Ellen has always loved her Birthday, particularly opening presents, which she does so with an extremely clinical rapidity, barely glancing at the enclosed gift before getting the next one ready on her lap. Many a time I have had to tell disappointed relatives ‘she does love it really’, as their carefully chosen present is slung aside with barely a glance. New things seem to have to go through a kind of quarantine and only after a couple of weeks are they admitted into the fold and then watched, worn or read and finally appreciated.
Ellen’s autism means that she has never really liked parties, but this year, she surprised me. When I mentioned to her that she might want to have some people over she not only seemed keen, but was very decisive about what she wanted. She wrote a list of people that she wanted to invite, totally around 30 people mainly friends and family members. As you may have seen from previous blogs, Ellen loves face painting. This party was to be a face painting party, with everyone young and old to be painted as animals. Ellen even chose who was going to be what animal, our intrepid facepainter had to cope with requests for jellyfish and skunks as well as the more standard butterfly and tiger designs.
There were also to be games; pass the parcel, musical statues, pin the tail on the tiger and bingo. There was also going to be dancing. Ellen was also very clear that she wanted a tiger cake but that no one was to sing Happy Birthday when she blew out the candles. Ellen even came food shopping with us and chose the party food she would like; some of which was not surprising; sausages on sticks and ham sandwiches but she did throw me a bit with her request for pineapple and cheese on sticks, not sure where she has picked up that idea from!
Despite all the careful planning and preparation, I wasn’t sure that Ellen would actually participate in the party at all. I thought there was about a 50/50 chance that she would take one look at the hoards of people arriving and disappear to the sanctuary of her bedroom for the whole night! How happy was I to be proved wrong.
Ellen absolutely loved watching everyone get their face painted and immediately posed for photos with those who had been transformed. She cheated blatantly at pin the tail on the tiger, whilst declaring that she couldn’t have a scarf around her eyes because it would ruin her face paint but that she ‘promised’ she wouldn’t look.
She played at least three rounds of bingo and musical statues and amazingly won them all…(there had to be a prize for Ellen and then another for the real winner).
She blew out the candles on the cake without anyone singing, but was happy enough for everyone to chant ‘Happy Birthday’ Ellen. I thought I was being really clever making her a cake which had tiger stripes inside. I wasn’t sure that the recipe had worked until I cut the cake open and when I did I declared proudly ‘and look Ellen it has tiger stripes inside’ to which she replied. ‘Those aren’t tiger stripes, they’re zebra stripes’, back to the drawing board then ;-).
Ellen is not a typical eighteen year old, but she has a fabulous sense of humour and her straight forward, socially uninhibited way of life makes her a lot of fun to be around. It was a great day.