A young boy with autism had more than 200 strangers throw a humongous birthday party for him after no one from his kindergarten class responded to his invitations.
With her son’s sixth birthday approaching, Lisa Schramel sent invitations to his kindergarten class for a trip to a local theater to see the new Thor movie. Schramel’s son, Mathias, has autism, and she was set on giving him a birthday where he could sit back and feel like a normal kid. But in order to rent out the theater as she planned, they needed a minimum of 10 children to attend, and with just a day before Mathias’ big day, not a single person had RSVP’d.
“We didn’t expect to have any problems with it, it was the brand new Thor movie, he’s such a big fan,” Schramel, 37, of Alamogordo, New Mexico, tells PEOPLE. “Weeks went by, then it’s the night before and no one has gotten a hold of me, and I’m sitting there thinking about what I’m going to do since it’s all he’s talked about, and there isn’t going to be anybody there.”
Having no one reply to the invitations was a painful way to end a difficult month for the family. Within a two-week span leading up to Mathias’ birthday, doctors discovered non-cancerous tumors in Schramel’s breasts, his father lost his job and a family member was on their deathbed succumbing to lung cancer. As Schramel scrambled to plan a last minute birthday party at home, taking into account these stressful weeks, she grew frustrated and was compelled to vent on Facebook.
“I just don’t get how these kids get seen differently,” she says. “They are the same functional human beings on the inside as everybody else. That really made me peeved off!”
Then, something wonderful happened: Within a few hours of submitting her Facebook post, dozens of people responded saying they would love to throw a party for Mathias, just in time for his birthday.
“I cried. I just cried. It was beautiful and extremely overwhelming,” Schramel recalls. “At that point, I had 15 hours to prepare a birthday party!”
Since Mathias loves animals as much as he loves Thor, Schramel immediately went to the Alameda Zoo to ask if she could have the party at the zoo’s recreational area. Officials were more than up for the idea and even said attendees could get in for a discounted price of $1.25.
As things came together, Schramel ran to a local store and cleared out their decorations shelves, and coordinated with kind strangers who wanted to bring gifts and food. One woman even baked Mathias a large colorful cake.
More than 200 people showed up to the party on November 4, and tables were filled with pizza and presents—so much so that Mathias himself asked that people make donations to gift the presents to animals in need.
“The fact that a community would stop what they’re doing to go to a little boy’s birthday that they don’t know…it was really beautiful,” Schramel says. “It was the first moment I got to see my son be treated like other children. That’s all I ever wanted for him, just a have moments where nobody looked at him as broken or different, or in some way that made his existence seem wrong.”
Schramel says Mathias has high-functioning autism, which includes ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. There are a variety of things that can trigger him, whether it’s being touched or hearing loud sounds which cause him to shut down. Schramel hopes that by raising awareness, other people may be more sympathetic or aware of how to interact with a child with autism, because she worries about the future.
“You try to protect them as much as possible, but you know they have to experience this, because this is not going to be a friendly world,” she says. “Nobody, when he gets bigger, is going to make the loud sound go away.”
She is thankful for the support she has received from many friendly strangers who came out to make a nice kid feel like he belonged.
“They looked at him as just a regular little boy that wanted to play,” Schramel says. “For them to do that for us, there is no gift they could have given our family that could have meant as much.”