When only one classmate showed up at Max Chen’s birthday party, his father David felt empty.
“My autism spectrum disorder kid is the different kid in the class. We invited all his classmates to his birthday party today and only one showed up. Difficult to explain to my kid & that kid’s mom that only one classmate came. Not making assumptions but still an empty feeling day,” David tweeted.
My autism spectrum disorder kid is the different kid in the class. We invited all his classmates to his birthday party today & only 1 showed up. Difficult to explain to my kid & that kid's mom that only one classmate came. Not making assumptions but still an empty feeling day. pic.twitter.com/D2tSGL7iP1— David Chen, concerned citizen 陳冠余 (@DavidChenTweets) May 14, 2022
Chen had invited all 19 of his son’s kindergarten classmates by e-mail. On the day of the party, he hadn’t heard back from 16 of the families. Not wanting to disappoint his son, Chen went ahead with the party anyway.
In the days that followed, Chen’s Tweet was seen by thousands. People from around the world wished Max a happy birthday and people shared their own bad birthday experiences.
“That Tweet was a moment of what I felt at the time. I didn’t want to point the finger and blame, but it did illustrate that we have a much larger problem. In discussion with so many people, they said ‘yeah that happened to me’, so it’s created a drive to try to solve this.”
Max’s class held a birthday party for him the next week at school. Chen said his son isn’t yet verbal enough to explain what he’s thinking, but when Chen asked his son about how the party went Max said “It was awesome”.
“His party on Saturday ‘it was fine’, his party on Monday ‘I loved it’. Clearly, he’s recognized there’s a difference. It would make any parent happy and glow with warmth when they see that kind of a result.”
Chen said the other parents and Max’s teaching team were spectacular in dealing with the issue.
That has led to conversations at the parent advisory council to look at ways they can ensure no child is forgotten on their birthday. The council is working to draft guidelines around birthday invitations like making sure parents communicate with physical invites, e-mails and text message to prevent parents from missing invites.
But some families aren’t able to attend or organize parties on their own for a variety of reasons. Chen and the PAC are working on a recommendation to provide teachers with funding to have small birthday celebrations in class.
“One of the things we put forward to the PAC is having an annual budget for kids who can’t afford it so we can get cupcakes and a small gift for the child so at least once they can be celebrated with their daily peers, because that’s what they really need.”
A celebration with his peers is exactly what Max needed and exactly what he got — albeit a few days late.
“These are small things, but they’re big things,” Chen said. “If we can get a dramatic return on effort on something like this, it’s well worth it.”