By now you’ve probably heard about Odin’s birthday party—perhaps you’ve even tweeted, texted or sent a Facebook message to the 13-year-old. The Peterborough, Ont. teen recently had a spectacular birthday bash thanks to thousands of strangers, celebrities and athletes who all chimed in to wish him a happy birthday after no one RSVP’d to his party last week.
Odin Camus has Asperger’s syndrome which makes it difficult for him to relate to other students, and often leaves him a target for bullies. When it became apparent that no one would attend her son’s birthday, Odin’s mother Melissa turned to Facebook to suggest that people text his brand new cellphone to cheer him up.
Her Facebook post quickly went viral and soon Odin received more than 5,000 texts, (he stopped reading after the first couple thousand) and #odinbirthday trended in Canada for two days straight on Twitter. Celebrities Carrie Underwood, Elijah Wood and Molly Ringwald (does a 13-year-old even know who she is?) tweeted special birthday greetings. And the best wishes kept rolling in. Toronto Maple Leafs fans sang “Happy Birthday” during a home game, the Toronto Raptors mascot sent his greetings, the Canadian military sent pictures, school groups made videos and Today’s Parent got into the act via social media. Hundreds of people showed up for his party at a Peterborough bowling alley with gifts and hugs for the birthday boy. There were even supportive messages from other kids who have Asperger’s and parents just like Melissa who want their kids to fit in.
Odin’s birthday party made international headlines. It was incredible—the Internet saved a young boy’s birthday. As Odin told the Peterborough Examiner, “It’s amazing how people care. I feel absolutely amazing. Now the bullies will have a second glance at me.”
Here we are a few days later, and Odin and his mom have made TV appearances and admit to feeling overwhelmed by all the support. But the guests have left, the bowling alley emptied out and the tweets slowing down. In a few days we will have forgotten Odin and the day that the Internet threw a 13-year-old a birthday party.
We all love a feel-good story, but that bandwagon rolls out of town as quickly as it appears and can leave a mess in its wake. I hate to be a downer, because it really was a great day for a young boy. But I wonder about the underbelly of this story. What are the long-term ramifications for a kid who has trouble making friends to have been the centre of the world’s attention for one day? What about the kids who shunned him to begin with—will they change their tune because of this? Will life really change for Odin? I sure hope so! I hope that through the throngs of people he met recently there were one or two kids his age who decided to make a genuine effort and be his friend away from the media glare. His mom even said that her hope is he connects with other teens with Asperger’s.
There are many other kids with Asperger’s out there who are bullied, and there are other sad teenagers who don’t have friends to come to their birthday parties. What are we doing for them? It’s easy to hit “Like” on Facebook or send a quick tweet—even showing up for one night at a bowling alley to be part of the hoopla doesn’t take much effort. But setting up support systems for kids and their families requires full community action. Remembering Odin, and the thousands of other kids just like him, during the other 364 days of the year is what really makes a difference.
After Odin has opened all the gifts and read through all the tweets and texts—after his celebrity dies down and he’s just another kid in the school hallways again—I hope then he finds the gift of friendship. Because that is what will make the rest of his year—and beyond—truly special.