A B.C. dad said he hopes that by sharing a recent experience about his son’s birthday party, he can help bring about some change for those who may be viewed as different.
David Chen is a dad of four, three with special needs, he explained. One of them, Max, is in kindergarten this year.
Max, who has autism, experienced a lot of challenges becoming comfortable enough to attend school, Chen said. Even on the first day, Chen said he was called within half an hour to come and get Max because “he couldn’t handle it.
“He just started full days of school about a month ago,” Chen said. “So imagine, doing three-quarters of the year, doing partial days.”
Chen said Max still struggles with focus and social settings and struggles to fully communicate all the time.
But for his sixth birthday, Chen said the family wanted to do something special as a birthday party is a “rite of passage.”
He said they wanted to have an all-class party so they picked a venue and sent out invitations.
“Unfortunately, we got one person that said yes, two people that said no and 16 that didn’t say anything,” Chen said. “It was kind of an empty feeling.”
He said after his story started getting attention, five of those 16 parents did reach out to him.
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Chen said he is thankful Max seems to have forgotten about it but only a few weeks earlier another child in the class had a birthday party and 16 of the 19 kids showed up, including Max, and Chen said he had a wonderful time.
“So when you hear that, you feel it,” Chen said.
He said he’s not pointing the finger at anyone or blaming anyone but he put out a tweet about the experience to bring awareness and he has received hundreds of responses from strangers telling their own stories.
“The worst, I had someone that said someone made a fake party for me and I showed up and nobody showed up,” Chen said.
“Another one that said ‘I remember this 30 years ago’. Can you imagine that these echoes are affecting everyone from that far back?”
Chen is now working with the PAC at his son’s school to create a guide on how to have a successful birthday party and incorporate everyone.
“Nobody wants to have this happen to them,” he said.
He also arranged with Max’s teacher to have an in-class party for his son.
“We all take part in how we shape our community,” Chen said and he wants to continue sharing messages of love and acceptance.
He said the biggest takeaway from their story is not to be afraid to ask why someone is different and to learn from that.
“I think that if we can understand the differences, the strengths, and the needs we can actually get beyond that, we can help people shine,” he said.
“And that’s what I want to see, for all of our kids to have a chance to shine.”
-with files from Aaron McArthur