What Does a Happy Birthday Look Like?
What does it look like for a child or adult with a disability or special need? Guest blogger Mark Arnold answers that question today in this story about how he and his family created a happy birthday for their son, Mark. He hopes it will spur on families who want to keep their loved one with additional needs at the center of the birthday celebration.
James’ birthday was the other day. Birthdays are an occasion to look forward to for most people, but it’s not a day he particularly recognizes. Due to his additional needs, James doesn’t really get birthdays. But that didn’t mean that we would let the day just slip by unnoticed!
We planned a day for James to remember
A day filled with his favorite things.
A day that would bring him joy and delight, thrills and excitement.
A special day.
The happiest of days.
The best of birthdays.
And the plan worked!
So what does a happy birthday look like? For Mark it looked like this:
Operation Birthday Card
One of James’ favorite things when his birthday comes around is receiving and opening lots of cards. Last year we appealed to social media and received over 80 birthday cards through the post. This year our target was 100 cards, and we smashed it! Over 150 cards came from across the world with contributions from Brownie and Guide groups too! James was thrilled and spent a happy birthday morning opening cards, looking at each one, and giving instructions as to where they were to be placed!
Farm Shop Trip
James’ favorite place in the whole world is Pamphill Farm Shop near Wimborne in Dorset. He loves to shop there, and the staff members are inclusive. They remember his name and accommodate his needs, like his need to line up the entire stock of iced gingerbread!
James had a lovely time there on the afternoon of his birthday. We followed it up with a visit to the café at Compton Abbas airfield, a little grass airstrip near Shaftestbury, Dorset. Two of James’ favorite places in one day!
Birthday Tea and Cake!
A trip out to James’ favorite places usually ends with a visit to the fish and chip shop on the way home. James has several ‘favorites’ to choose from, sometimes fish cakes, but on this day chicken nuggets and chips.
A birthday must have cake, and as James likes chocolate it had to be a full-on chocolate fest cake—with a candle to blow out of course!
Time to Relax
After such a busy day, it was time to chill out and relax on the sofa to watch TV and think about what a wonderful birthday it had been. Even though James didn’t know it was his birthday, we couldn’t treat it like any other day. We wanted James to have great memories, to experience our love, to know we care enough to make his day extra special. It worked. On this very best of birthdays, James smiled the whole day through.
So what does a happy birthday look like for people with disabilities and special needs? It looks like being surrounded by whom and what they love best.
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By Mark Arnold
Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director at Urban Saints, a leading national Christian children’s and youth organization. He is co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, a national and international advocate for children and young people with additional needs or disabilities. Mark is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner, a member of the Council for Disabled Children and the European Disability Network. He writes an additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine and blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. He is father to James, who has autism spectrum condition, associated learning disability, and epilepsy. To find out more about how Mark’s work can help you, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @Mark_J_Arnold
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