No One Came to This Autistic Boy’s Birthday Party… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

Forgive me for the Buzzfeed-style headline. But the events of Saturday are just such a roller coaster ride that I feel like if there’s ever a time when I’m going to get all Upworthy on y’all, it’s now.

If you’re a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably been following the saga of Graham’s 5th birthday party. This was the first year I decided to give him a real party. A party with invitations handed out and RSVP’s requested instead of just calls to our friends down the street.  I learned from last year that summer birthdays are tough. I handed out invitations early this year, made sure every kid got one, about 15 in all. I gave my email to RSVP and waited.

And waited.

Last week (a month after handing them out) we got our first RSVP: it was a no. Also no’s from all our local friends who would love dearly to come, but are just gone.

Summer birthdays are harder than I thought. As someone who had a winter birthday, and who moved so often that birthday parties weren’t that common anyway, I didn’t get it until this year. It is HARD. And it’s harder when I don’t have anyone’s contact information. Boston’s elementary schools aren’t just divvied up by neighborhood. The kids in his class come from all around, we don’t have a tight-knit community, we don’t call each other for playdates. And he’s been in an Early Childhood class where several of the kids are special needs and that complicates it even more. 

I started to worry. 

The party was scheduled for a trade-off custody day so that both parents could attend without messing with schedules. I chose a spray park near our house and chose 10 a.m. for a start time. The park is usually pretty quiet before noon and I planned to arrive right when they opened at 9:30 when it’s a ghost town to get us a table for the cake.

Saturday morning, the big day, I got to the park early with Kathy, the maker of Graham’s Hot Wheels cake. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I felt my stomach turn. The little spray park had already been invaded. The doors were open even though it wasn’t open yet. There was no one there now, but someone had been there. They’d come, set up all the tables under the little bit of shade, added several chairs, put up a stereo system, set out a grill, and hung balloons and Happy Birthday signs. Whoever they were, they’d taken everything.

I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I waited. We asked someone in the park nearby and they reported that people had been there and then left. It was quarter to 10, the kids showed up with their dad. Still no sign of the other party. So I called it. The area wasn’t one you could reserve, it was not cool to take all the tables at the park, so we took one back and moved it to an open space. 

People started showing up… to the spray park, not to the party. No sign of the other party either. Just kids from the swimming lessons next door who’d just finished and were now over for some fun. 

A girl who goes to camp with Graham was there. She hadn’t been invited or anything, but it was a happy coincidence. 

There are times when you’re glad your kid doesn’t pick up on stuff. And I was so glad that Graham hadn’t fixated on the invitations to his party. I was glad he didn’t remember that he’d given me that list of 15 names. I was glad that he was happy to run around knowing he was having a birthday party and there was a cake and he was having fun.

Time passed. Kids came and went. It stayed pretty quiet at the park. Still no sign of the other party. Still no sign of any of Graham’s friends. 

And then something wonderful happened.

It was Graham’s best friend Dennis. The one he talks about often, the one he says he misses, the one he calls “my best friend Dennis.” He’s an IEP kid like Graham. His mom came, too, and said she’d tried to email but by the time she got the invitation from Dennis she couldn’t make out the address. She’d made some attempts but they hadn’t made it to me. I didn’t care. I was so happy.

I cried. I cried behind my big sunglasses, grateful that they hid how crazy and foolish I looked. 

Dennis brought presents. Graham opened them and was thrilled. A new Spiderman bracelet was put on. Cake was eaten. They ran through the spray. They played with Graham’s new Hot Wheels race track. As far as Graham was concerned, it was the best party. And I had to agree.

And those people who claimed the tables for their party? There was no sign of them until we were leaving. So nice of them to claim all that space and not use it for hours. Sigh.

We said goodbye to Dennis, had lunch, drove around and then drove around much longer than necessary because both kids were asleep and why stop?


I’d been updating online, of course. Letting everyone know Graham was happy even though no one showed up. And then letting them know someone had come! Hooray! 

But when I finally got to Twitter, well, that was when the story really started.

The internet was sad to see Graham alone at his birthday party. The internet decided to help. By this time I assured the internet that Graham did have a friend come, that this was all unnecessary. The internet did not care. The internet wanted to know what would make Graham happy. 

So this little boy who is so easy to make happy will be pretty thrilled when the internet sends him to see Thomas the Tank Engine at Edaville next month. Internet, I have no words. So I’ll just take lots of pictures. And until then here are a couple from the spray park. Tessa, who wouldn’t touch the water a month ago, is now sticking in hands and feet and is ridiculously cute. And Graham, I look at pictures and see this long, lean kid whose face sometimes looks so grown up and I don’t even know what to think.




  1. says

    I was so nervous leading up to the party. Overjoyed when Dennis showed up. You know what hit me the most with this post?? “There are times when you’re glad your kid doesn’t pick up on stuff.” Yes. All the time and all the way YES.

    If I was closer to your town, I’d have been all over that splash park!

    Happy Birthday, Graham!
    Dani G recently posted..This is Our Autism

  2. says

    Jess, I just want to hug you. Your love for your kids is more powerful than uranium, more powerful than Superman… it’s ridiculously powerful. Parents just don’t RSVP anymore, and that sucks, and I’m sorry you were so stressed out (man I was stressed just following the saga on FB/Twitter). Dennis, you are a rock star.

    If it’s cool for your family and maybe Dennis’ family too, I’d be happy to show Graham and Dennis a pretty good time at King Richard’s Faire, and have them meet the king. Or a knight. Or the queen, or whatever he damn wants. Plus, we have ice cream. Just say the word, and I’ll give him the royal treatment at KRF.
    Julie Dennehy recently

  3. says

    I was following this story on fb. Praying for a happy ending. So happy that Graham’s bff came. Tears in my eyes right now. Yes I am also glad that my son doesnt pick up on certain things. Happy Birthday Graham!!!

  4. says

    I too have been following this story and had been praying that his birthday would be special. I am so glad that the day went well for him and that his best friend could share it with him!! And, I am teary eyed by your twitter friends and there big hearts. Sending love! xo
    Kathy Radigan recently posted..An Open Letter To My Son

  5. says

    I’m so happy this worked out. I’ve been in that position and oh-so-worried for my kids and their feelings. My kids are 7 and 8 and are still just happy to have their closest friend(s) at the party. They don’t care if most of the kids can’t come and, in fact, I think that they prefer a smaller gathering where they can just focus on their most favorite people. One trick I’ve learned is to do everything possible to get contact info for the best friends, call then before the party date is chosen, and see if they think they’ll be free. Then you know you’re covered, even if everyone else is away.
    Christy @QuirkyFusion recently posted..How My Kids Taught Me to Love Reading Again

  6. Lela says

    Your story is sad but with a beautiful ending. I can so relate because we have a 6 year old autistic daughter. I haven’t even tried to give her a party for fear that no one would come. She has never been invited to anyone’s party either. I totally understand when you said there are times you are glad that sometimes he doesn’t pick up on things. God bless you. These kids are so very special and their little lights just shine on sometimes regardless of the outcomes.

    • Carlee says

      Clearly, it’s time to work on your kid’s social skills. She’s not ENTITLED to friends. Nobody is.

      (She’s entitled to people treating her kindly and politely, which stops the world from descending into anarchy. Period. That’s the minimum required by the social contract. Everything else is gravy!).

      • says

        Carlee, I’m not sure why you think I have that opinion. As a special needs kid, it can be harder for him to make friends, but he’s done really well and I’m very proud of him. This was just a story of our experience with my son’s birthday party, which was the first one we ever threw, and one where we didn’t have a close community to pull from. I don’t want anyone to think I’m throwing stones. It’s possible people didn’t get our invites and I’ll definitely do what I can next year to develop better communication.

  7. says

    I saw your FB posts on Saturday. I am so, so happy that Graham’s friend came…the one he always talks about. That is perfection!! I love the ending, too. What a blessing the Internet can be. 🙂
    Lisa recently posted..Summer Time

  8. says

    I was following along on Facebook and was SO glad when his friend came. I know it still hurts your heart though. I’m glad he was happy and love that he’s going to see Thomas.

  9. MommaDe says

    The internet is usually a ruthless scary place. But sometimes, the internet shows compassion and mercy. From my ASD house, I hope your kiddo has an awesome time with Thomas Train.

  10. Charlotte says

    I am sure the children would have loved to come and be his friend also !! I can say parent’s should teach their children to respect their special needs friends !! Children can not go anywhere if the parents do not take them . Some parents think only about their children and things they would rather do than go to a birthday party !! Happy he had his friend and a great birthday party !! Sweet Boy

  11. says

    I missed all of this until after the fact, but I LOVE THIS STORY. I get it … I so, so get it. The summer birthday, the challenge of inviting people, the fear about how it will go. I am THRILLED for Graham that it worked out so beautifully. Yay for Dennis! And, I’m with Dani – there is something to be said for kids who remain seemingly ignorant to social conventions, like huge birthday parties that have to go JUST SO, and find within themselves the happiness that comes from simplicity, like sharing cake and Hot Wheels with a good friend. <3
    Danielle recently posted..Just Try

  12. Sharon says

    Loved your post, though it made me cry…a lot. I have twin boys, born in August, turning 8 this year. One is neuro typical, the other is nonverbal with mod to severe autism. Each year, their birthday becomes more of a struggle for me. Not only do they have the dreaded summer birthday, but how do I make it fair and special for each of them. My one son has a list a page long of friends he wants to invite. He has a theme in mind and writes up a wish list. My son with autism has no friends on his list, he’s toddler like, has minimal interests, and doesn’t really care if it’s his birthday. What a challenge. We stopped having friend birthday parties a couple years ago. The party attendance was always one sided, even though I invite the entire special ed class. I can’t ask friends of one son to also bring a gift for my other son who they are not friends with…ugh! I don’t want to cheat my neurotypical son either who keeps begging me for a friends party. This year, our party will be family only again. It breaks my heart, but next year I may individualize things more. I’m open to advice. Birthdays seem to get harder as they get older.

  13. Lyn says

    I was silently crying as I read your story but I’m so glad you have some good friends who shared Graham’s day Dennis you are the best friend and you only ever need your family at a birthday party and just 1 friend.Happy Birthday from Australia.

  14. Dori says

    Just a note about summer birthdays – they do suck when you are a kid! My birthday is end of July and in elementary school I was bummed out that other kids got to celebrate their birthdays in school but I never did. And of course many of the kids I knew were away for my birthday. So my mother started throwing me birthday parties in June, before school got out. I loved it! We’d invite the whole class and have the party after school and the kids would all walk home from school with me for the party (we lived very close). I got to feel very special for the day and kids were there for my party. Yay Mom! You may or may not want to invite his whole class to the party, but really there is no reason you couldn’t have the party early. It’s not like there are any rules.

  15. says

    Yay for the caring internet!!! Birthday parties are hard especially when ppl are so disconnected. Where we use to live the schools sent out a directory with contact information for all those that granted permission. Here they have no such thing and it is very difficult to break into this tight knit community to extend invitations.
    Robbie recently posted..Tuesday Ten: Relaxin’

  16. says

    My grandson was recently diagnosed with ASD, FASD, ADHD & an anxiety disorder. He has been living with me full time for the past year and we are learning how to do this together. I can totally relate to your story, he has no friends and I don’t understand why people have to treat these kids like they are contagious. It is truly a blessing that they do not notice most things that we pick up on, everyday I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing!


  1. […] 1) I know the crushing devastation of having a child with no real friends of her own to invite to a birthday party. See what happens to help this lucky boy have a happy birthday after all! No One Came to This Autistic Boy’s Birthday Party… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next […]

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