Happy Birthday? Why Getting Birthdays Right Matters!

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Happy Birthday? Why Getting Birthdays Right Matters!

June is the month where three generations of Arnold’s celebrate their birthdays; James, me and my Dad.

Chronologically, and just by a few hours, the first is James’ birthday.

Although things are gradually getting back to some sense of post-pandemic normality for many, due to James additional needs this is the third birthday that we’ve not been able to celebrate with him as we would have liked. But that didn’t mean that we had to abandon James’ birthday celebrations, we just had to adapt them, and we found that they worked much better!

It was going to be difficult to invite family and friends around for the big day, but we could arrange to chat with them virtually.

It wasn’t possible for James to see many people arriving with cards and packages for him, so we asked people to send cards and packages through the post instead.

Word spread, and by the time of his birthday, 75 cards had arrived as well as a stack of parcels.

More arrived over the subsequent couple of days, the postman was curious to know what was going on and why James was so popular!

We couldn’t easily go out somewhere for a meal, so we had a special birthday meal delivered to us! And there was cake, of course!

So it was a different birthday, an alternative birthday, but James had a brilliant time.

He didn’t have to battle through the social anxiety and exhaustion of loads of people arriving at home, he didn’t have to cope with the sensory overload of visiting somewhere for a meal, there was no queueing or waiting, he could stay in his safe space at home and have his birthday come to him… and he loved it!

It took ages to open, look at, and line up all of the cards.

People knew that James loves Minions, and Winnie the Pooh, and Star Wars, and animals, so the cards reflected this. Some lit up, some made sounds, some were handmade, they were all very much appreciated.

It took ages to eat the meal that arrived, James’ favourite Chinese food, and it was a struggle to find room for the cake afterwards, but we bravely managed to squeeze a piece in! There was no rush, no one hovering to say that they were waiting for the table, it was all very relaxed.

As you can see from the header photo, James had a fabulous birthday, and he taught us a valuable lesson… Birthdays are important days to celebrate, but in doing so we should make sure that the celebration reflects the needs of the individual, and those needs might be different to what everyone else expects or even wants.

Pandemic birthdays have been the perfect birthdays for James and so next year, assuming that the world is a safer place by then, we might just have a special one-day lockdown again and celebrate in a more relaxed way.

Happy birthday, James!

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