Tonight we went out as a family to a friend’s birthday party.

To be honest, these things are not normally occasions I look forward to as any social gathering for my kids can be fraught with difficulty. And, as a consequence, they are normally full of stress and strain for us as well.

Tonight did not initially bode well. Gilbert did not want to go at all, worried because we were going somewhere we had never been before. Meanwhile, Matilda had her own concerns as we did not have a gift to take and we couldn’t go to a party without a gift!

Despite these concerns we arrived on time (a miracle!) and met up with our friends. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated which was enough time for Gilbert to become agitated and Matilda to become loud and over-excited.

Sitting amongst other diners and absorbing all the noise and the smells and the sights slowly became more and more difficult for my son. He began fiddling with cutlery and bobbing up and down in his chair and remonstrating with his sister for singing too loud.

After finishing his juice and being told, yet again, to leave the cutlery alone, he exploded. He screamed and threw a knife and tried to run away. I could not physically hold him and my husband, somehow, dragged him outside.

Most people seemed understanding although there were, understandably, a lot of looks our way. I tried to concentrate on the girls and block everything else out – Matilda was clinging to me scared and concerned about Gilbert’s outburst, while Delilah decided to scream just like he did, over and over again!

I can’t remember how long my husband was outside with our son, trying to calm him down enough to come back inside. But they did eventually return. Seeing us continue to struggle with Gilbert, an older man came up to my husband and offered to get some colouring in pencils and paper for us.

After declining the offer (that works for Matilda but Gilbert is just not interested in colouring in) the gentleman asked whether Gilbert had autism, which explained his understanding looks and his kind offer. That tiny bit of kindness and understanding nearly brought me to tears – it’s often people’s kindness that undoes me far more than their lack of understanding.

But, Gilbert was still not calm – the smells of the meals around us were still bothering him so I decided to take him for a walk inside the club to defuse the situation.

After a while, the distraction of a telephone, skill tester game, lolly dispenser and some no-signs (related to unacceptable attire) did the trick. We also found a quiet corner where we could play a game where we jumped on ugly christmas decoration patterns in the carpet which helped him to further calm down.

I finally coaxed him back to the table and it looked like he was going to lose it again until he heard a harmonica being played and then his focus was on the music. From that point on he remained calm. After finishing his meal he found a set of stairs to play on which helped calm him further and later he kept spinning himself around in a circle to address his sensory needs.

While Gilbert battled his way through the evening, Matilda was in her element. She sat herself between 2 young ladies and basked in their undivided attention. Later she joined in on the spinning as well and even got her brother to dance with her for a bit. Delilah also ran around them and it was fantastic to see all 3 kids having an awesome time TOGETHER.

Cooperative play and genuine enjoyment in each other’s company rarely happens in our house. Again, I was nearly brought to tears watching their enjoyment of the simple act of spinning around, falling over and laughing – it was a joy to behold.

While the kids were distracted I was able to speak to others who were genuinely interested in them and their diagnosis of autism. We even had a genuine offer of babysitting, which was a very pleasant surprise and comes just at the right time for us.

For the first time I think I am ready to take that chance. We really do need some respite from our responsibilities and it is not fair on our extended family to always rely on them for support.

It’s also not fair on our relationship for us to never have time to ourselves – it’s time for us to set aside some time and put our trust in someone who wants to help us out and who is genuinely interested in our kids.

So, for a night that didn’t start off at all well, it ended up being far better than I could have ever expected. My kids had fun, we enjoyed ourselves and we found understanding and help in some unexpected places.

You can’t ask for much more than that!