Eight-year-old Carson Horlacher had put his heart and soul into the hand-made birthday cards he planned to give to his classmates, inviting them to his ninth birthday on July 22. Unfortunately, when Cason did hand them out, only one person responded, and that individual wasn't able to come.
Carson's father, Dustin Horlacher, was crestfallen and unsure of how to break the news to his son, especially since Carson has Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
"[With] ASD, that leads him to be very black and white. So it's not just saying, 'they can't come' or 'nobody RSVPed'. That's not enough. He needs to know why exactly. [He needs] to know how many and when you say zero, he gets stuck on it," said Horlacher. "It can be a very difficult conversation to have and you just don't know, the proper word[s] to say."
As a way to vent his own frustration, Carson's father posted about the disappointing experience on a local Facebook group. What he didn't expect was the overwhelming outpouring of support for Carson.
"Almost immediately I started seeing comments flooding in, people saying, 'my son would love to come' or' I have a son on the spectrum and have gone through that. I'd love to be a part of a special day' and 'let me know when and where it is'," he said. "There must have been well over 100 people that wanted to come in some way shape or form."
The post took on a life of its own and local businesses began to pitch in to help make the day memorable. While Carson will be celebrating his special day today with some ice cream cake and pizza, a much bigger celebration is planned for July 31.
"We decided to make an event out of it and do some good, to make a party just for all the kids that are left out and don't get invited. I'm hearing from people as far as Texas saying 'Happy birthday wish I could be there.'"
Horlacher says that the experience has also made him want to be more vocal about the struggles of parents who raise children with ASD, struggles that may not always be so apparent to an outsider.
"Carson, for instance, he's very pattern orientated and very fixated on numbers, and routines. Let's say, we went to go get ice cream, and they don't have cotton candy and that was the flavour he wanted. Now he can't have ice cream because they don't have cotton candy and he can't pick another flavour," Horlacher said. "He'll get upset and he'll start crying. We understand he's upset, and we know why, but in the ice cream shop, there are 20 people sitting there, they just see a kid that's crying and screaming, and they start giving you the looks."
And while Carson's fixation on patterns and numbers can sometimes hamper him, it has also meant he has excelled at math.
"He's very, very good at math. He, when we did his assessment, he tested very high on that. He's eight years old, and he likes to do his algebra, he likes to do fractions and decimal points. Math is his favourite and it's just something that makes him happy. Numbers in any form, he loves them."
Horlacher is also hoping the July 31 party at the Big Fun Inflatable Park will become an annual event, but for now, he is ecstatic that his son will get the birthday party he deserves.
"I'm glad something that started out as a really depressing negative post from a dad that just didn't know what to do turned into something positive and the community just really stepped up and has been there and I'm really excited for what's going to happen."
Asked if the July 31 birthday bash is a surprise, Horlacher admitted that Carson did end up getting a hold of his dad's phone and knows all about it.
"He's fully aware of what's about to happen and he's beside himself. He's very excited."
If you'd like to be a part of Carson's special day, you can contact Big Fun Inflatable Park.
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