When Lindsay Larsen posted on Facebook how her son did not receive any RSVPs for his birthday, she only wanted to express her feelings. Only she could never have imagined what came next. Here's her remarkable story.
Family members are the ones who typically have each other's backs. From the older brother who looks out for their little sister at school to the mom who always protects her kids, family is everything.
The Larsen family is no different. They have four kids, two girls and two boys. All of them have a beautiful life and home in Meridian, Idaho. Christian is a science-loving and happy kid who always has the support of his siblings and parents. Though, life can sometimes be a little more difficult for him...
Christian was diagnosed with autism at an early age. Since his diagnosis, his family has had to learn how to create a safe and nurturing environment for Christian. Everybody stepped up to the plate. No one was going to leave him behind simply because he was different.
Autism spectrum disorder is a "developmental disability caused by differences in the brain," as defined by the CDC. They continue to explain, "People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests."
A Day in the Life
Speech pathologist Lindsay Roane spoke with Autism Parenting Magazine and said, "A difference in social development is a core characteristic of autism. In my experience, many of my clients with autism have more difficulty attending to and engaging with others..."
However, just because a child is diagnosed with autism does not mean they will never be able to make a friend. It simply means they may interact and operate differently than other kids in their classes. There are many ways to support and encourage socialization with kids who have autism.
If a child has been recently diagnosed with autism, Roane suggests, "Don't panic! Consider your child's strengths and build on them. Find providers (therapists, teachers, etc.) who share similar views with you." She also suggested creating joyful interactions for both the parents and the kid.
She also mentioned that it was important to try and join in on the child's world instead of trying to get them to understand their parents' world. While there may be setbacks along the way, it is vital that children with autism have places to learn and grow - just like Christian does.
Struggles in the Classroom
School can be a challenging environment for children with autism. Many types of social interactions and skill sets are used during the school day, which can be difficult for children with autism. However, with preparation at home, things can be easier.
"When autistic children learn how to navigate social challenges and increase their social skills in daily life through interactions with typically developing peers and others in the classroom, they have a chance at having personal relationships," stated Roane. This is good news for children like Christian.
"I'm a Loner"
Growing up, Christian was an energetic and lovable boy with a passion for science experiments, Cub Scouts, and spending time with his family. But his mom, Lindsay, noted in a Facebook post that he had a particularly tough time at Cub Scouts and one time had an emotional meltdown.
Lindsay recalled that she tried not crying while they continued their drive home that day. A few days later, as she picked him up from school, she asked how the Scouts were going. "No meltdowns today. I'm a loner. It's okay, I get me," he replied. Like any parent, Lindsay just wanted to make her baby's suffering disappear.
A Special Request
So when it came time to throw Christian a birthday party, she was stressed. She had never thrown him one before - at least a "real" birthday party. One time, they threw a small get-together with a few girls from his class when he was in pre-school, but it had been years since that. She always came up with a reason not to do one.
Lindsay mentioned in a post on Facebook, "For the past couple of years, Christian has been begging to invite all of his friends. Last year mom and dad were in Denmark just before, so I used that as an excuse to just have a family party." Yet, Christian was persistent. And she was caught in a dilemma.
The Birthday Bash
What is a parent supposed to do when their child desperately wants something? They can either say no and make their kid upset or take a risk and give them that one thing they want. Eventually, that is exactly what Lindsay Larsen did when it came to her son's one wish - a birthday party.
So, together they made invitations and sent them out. Then, they waited. The young boy was eager to see who would come celebrate his 9th birthday with him. Lindsay mentioned on Facebook that she "learned with [her other child] that many won't RSVP." Before she planned what they would do at the party, she wanted a headcount.
Waiting for a Reply
Days passed, and Lindsay was still waiting to hear back from Christian's classmates. But when she didn't hear back, she thought there was a chance her son forgot to hand out the invitations to his classmates. "Then, I heard from one. He did get them out."
She recalled in a post on Facebook, "We waited a couple more days, but still no 'yes's or no's.' I know a lot of people just don't, so I was hoping that's all that was going on." Why would none of these classmates RSVP to her son's birthday party? What was going on here?
A Mother's Worst Fear
It seemed like all of Lindsay's worst fears came true at the end of the school year picnic. She witnessed how the kids in Christian's class interacted with him - how he was so brave to approach them and ask them to RSVP for his birthday. She recalled that he worked extremely hard that year to memorize everyone's names.
Lindsay saw how his "friends" treated him and how the parents treated her son. They also did not bother acknowledging Christian. She confessed, "At first, I was just hoping that with the end-of-the-year chaos, that the invitations were overlooked. But, after seeing the personal interactions, I'm thinking maybe there is more."
"Make Time for Compassion"
Although Lindsay did not like how the other kids interacted with Christian, she understood. In her post on Facebook, she shared, "The hardest thing, is I do understand. It can be uncomfortable to try to be a friend with someone who has had outbursts and cried in class."
On the flip side, Lindsay wanted people to "make time for compassion." She acknowledged that it is normal to be uncomfortable with something different and make jokes or try to avoid a situation altogether. She only wished that people would do more to learn and show more compassion.
Only 1 RSVP
Out of all the kids in Christian's class, there was only one girl who responded 'yes.' Lindsay wrote on her Facebook, "I'm so excited and grateful for the one girl who will be coming. We will make it a great party." It didn't matter to Lindsay that it would only be one guest. She was going to make this the best day for her son.
That was what being a parent was all about - taking moments that could be disastrous and making the best of them. Christian was beyond grateful to have a parent like Lindsay, who took every opportunity to create something great for her son. However, that didn't mean that situations like these didn't hurt his feelings.
Documenting Their Disappointment
And his mom was just as hurt, if not more. No matter how strong Lindsay was, she was still a human being - a mom who was hurting for her baby boy. But perhaps more importantly, she couldn't believe that children could be so cruel. At the very least, she expected people to respond to the birthday invite.
So, she decided to take her story and share her thoughts and feelings on her Facebook page. With no idea what to expect, she began to type out a detailed account of what happened and how she felt about it. But what exactly would her Facebook 'friends' think about it?
One Stranger's Sympathy
After Lindsay initially wrote her plea on Facebook, it received over 400 likes, and there were over 200 comments on the emotional post. Lindsay and Christian's story struck a chord with people, particularly with a family friend of hers, who had an idea about how to help.
Blythe Ben-David lived far away from the Larsen family in Texas, but she wasn't going to let the distance between them stop her from helping out. Her husband played college football with the coach of a local high school football team, Dan Holtry. So, Ben-David put Coach Dan and Lindsay in contact. And they devised a plan.
A Surprise in the Making
Coach Dan sent a message to the team's group chat asking if they wanted to help lift a local boy's spirits. And the Nampa High School football team did not even hesitate. Holtry told CNN, "The players jumped at the opportunity. They were ready and willing to celebrate with Christian."
He continued, "Within seconds of a sent text they were 100% in. No hesitation whatsoever." Now, it was time to get down to business. They had to figure out exactly how they would surprise Christian and make his birthday the best day ever. How were they going to pull it off?
It was June 4th: the day of the big birthday party celebration. A few classmates and children from the neighborhood had showed up. There were also some family friends in attendance. Christian was running around basking in the moment when, suddenly, a noise came from out of nowhere.
...It was his name being repeated over and over again. "Christian! Christian! Christian!" Then, a group of high school footballers wearing their jerseys marched into the backyard. Christian was in complete shock. He kneeled over, then spread out on his back on the grass, pretending to faint.
The Ultimate Touchdown
Christian greeted his new special guests with a warm welcome - high fives for everyone! Then, he opened the gift the football players brought him, which included a t-shirt and a brand-new football. After that, there was only one thing left to do: They had to play some football.
The Nampa High School football players made the Larsen backyard into a makeshift football field so all the kids could play together. They used Christian's new football to run around and make some passes. The birthday boy even scored a few touchdowns with the home-field advantage.
All in This Together
The football players made quite the entrance, and Christian was not alone - for the first time in a long time. His mom, Lindsay, told CNN, "Christian often plays alone, or wanders off, but with the players there helping organize games, he became part of the action."
She continued, "He was playing alongside his peers, as well as the football players. I think it helped the other young children interact with Christian too." Lindsay went from watching her son be alone at the end of the school year to seeing him run around and play alongside the football team. It was truly a sight to be seen.
When Lindsay's friend, Blythe, first saw the post on Facebook, she never imagined the chain of events she'd set off. Even if she couldn't be there in person, she knew she had to help. So, Ben-David had reached out to Coach Dan. And the rest is now history.
Lindsay recalled that Coach Dan had asked her if he could come to Christian's party with some of his best players. The protective mother did not know what to do with the request at first. And while everyone was eternally grateful for the final outcome, what if things had transpired differently?
Born To Stand Out
Lindsay recalled on her Facebook page, "I'll admit, at first, I was a little hesitant." While looking back, it is hard to consider the fact that she could have hesitated, but perhaps it makes sense. She explained, "What if Christian didn't react well? I mean, we didn't need to make a big deal about the party."
Then, Lindsay had a revelation. She realized that much of her hesitation was because she didn't want to draw attention to herself or her family. She didn't want to be embarrassed. Then, she was reminded of the saying, "Why try to fit in when you're made to stand out?"
A Beautiful Lesson
As we now know, Lindsay decided to accept Coach Dan's offer. How did she get to this decision? She wrote, "But, then I got over myself, and happily accepted, because if community wants to come together, and celebrate Christian, why should I stop that. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of."
There are so many reasons to say 'no' to things. It may be too complicated, or it may end poorly. Lindsay's decision to say 'yes' was a life lesson for everyone that sometimes it is worth taking the risk to do something intimidating. Sometimes taking the risk is worth the reward.
"Instantly I Wanted To Do It"
When Coach Dan had sent a message to his football team, he had no idea how the athletes would respond. It became apparent very quickly, though, that the students were just as enthusiastic about helping out as their coach was. How did they see it?
One of the football players, Donovan Estrada, told KTVB-TV, "Instantly, I wanted to do it, and I know these guys did too. Right away, everyone kinda texted back like yeah, let's do it. We're in." To say the least, Coach Dan should be proud of his players and their eagerness to make a difference.
The Party of a Lifetime
Following the football team's grand gesture, Lindsay arranged a science-themed birthday for Christian. There was an assortment of cupcakes made to look like a beaker filled with oozing green liquid. She made a sign that said "Happy Birthday" using the periodic table of elements. But that's not all!
Lindsay also labeled all of the food with its "scientific name." For example, the water jugs were labeled "H2O," and the vegetables were labeled "Organic Matter." She also made brown, green, and brown cake pops that were supposed to represent protons, neutrons, and electrons. Bill Nye would approve of this party!
But even if only one friend had shown up, Lindsay was determined to make it the best birthday for her little guy. Luckily, the football team eventually surprised Christian and completely changed the entire atmosphere. Even his mom noticed a difference in her son.
She told USA Today, "When the players arrived, all of the kids started playing together. They were so excited, and it was the first time I'd seen Christian joining in, in a sport with his peers." She continued, "It was amazing that he felt comfortable with these new friends and played with them!"
Lindsay was so taken by the inspiring moment that she later shared the exchange on Facebook - and people couldn't get enough. The local news station, KTVB, interviewed Lindsay, Christian, and the entire football team. This story did not just stay local, though. Christian's story began to spread.
News outlets from all over the country picked up the heartwarming incident. Inside Edition had a special segment about Christian, and they interviewed him and his mom. They were also featured in articles by People, CNN, ABC News, and USA Today. That is only to name a few!
Brought to Tears
But when Lindsay and Christian were interviewed by the local news station in Boise, Idaho, KTVB, the mom of four was almost brought to tears. She began talking about how special the football team was. "I don't want to, you know, cry about it," she began. And that is when Christian turned to his mom.
He looked up at his mother and said, "Come on, just let the tears out, Mom. You know you just want to." And so, Lindsay did exactly that. She only had amazing things to share about the football team and all they did for her son and her family.
Part of a Team
Thanks to the selfless athletes, Lindsay's son was able to run around without a care in the world. He could join in and participate without feeling like he was different. What the team did for him was already applaudable - but they did not stop there. The footballers wanted to continue building their newfound friendship with Christian.
Donovan Estrada revealed to KTVB, "We want to get him out here for a few games, get him out on the field pregame, just have fun with him." As Lindsay perfectly put it, these high schoolers were simply "marvelous men." And she wasn't the only one who thought so.
Coach Dan and his team were not doing this to gain any fame or attract attention to themselves. As the Coach described to KTVB, "Well, it was just an opportunity to take care of a guy that was going through adversity, and we're blessed here at Nampa High School... We know about adversity... and we know how to fight through it."
Even if they weren't doing it for the accolades, their good deed did not go unnoticed. The whole country seemed to rally behind them - and so did the local community. The Nampa School District recognized the team for their good deed and wrote on their Facebook page, "They are true heroes!"
The high schoolers made such an impact on Christian just by showing up and accepting him for who he was. They understood his differences, and they played with him regardless. Lindsay Larsen explained, "One of the biggest pieces of autism is the social piece."
She had advice for other parents, too. "One thing I'd like to say is for parents to talk to their kids, because everyone needs a friend. Talk to your kids about differences that other kids might have." They could be like these footballers and help make the world a better place.
A Happy Ending
Safe to say, while it was not the birthday party that Christian and his mom originally had in mind, it turned out to be much better than that. Their story has helped inspire people to reach out to someone who could use a friend. And perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from them.
What started out as a devastating day turned into a moment Christian will remember forever. "There is so much good in this world, and when things are hard, the good shines even brighter," his emotional mother explained. And we couldn't agree more...