I am pleased to welcome back to Autism Mom guest writer Hilary Smith. In this article Hilary offers suggestions for great birthday experiences for children on the Autism spectrum. We have done almost all of these suggestions for the Navigator to both attend and host birthday parties, and they have worked well for us!
For children with Autism, events like birthday parties can be overwhelming. The loud screaming, laughing and high energy combined with a crowd of people sets up a sensory and social overload.
While not every child with Autism has the same needs or the same difficulties, parents planning a birthday party for their Autistic child–or a birthday party where a child with Autism will be a guest—need to prepare in advance to help make the event memorable…and comfortable.
Social situations are difficult for children with Autism, as they have trouble reading and interpreting social cues.
Their interactions are often different from those of other children; and, while many children with Autism want to be a part of their peers, they often don’t know how.
Keep these tips in mind to help make parties easier for your Autistic child:
If a birthday party will have lots of guests, a child on the Spectrum will likely be overwhelmed. Never hold a child back from attending the party (unless they don’t want to attend), but always have a place in mind to give children a break from the noise and commotion.
You can also pack head phones for your child. It’s ok to step away and it’s definitely OK to accommodate their sensory needs.
Pack Your Own Snacks
Some children on the Spectrum (and even some who aren’t) are very particular about the foods they eat. Parents should pack snacks just in case your child won’t eat (or can’t eat) the food at the party.
Some children with Autism are very affected by sugar. If your child can’t eat cake or cannot partake in the giant candy extravaganza, be sure to pack them their own special treat.
Every elementary school party my children have attended allowed parents to attend as well, and you will find that it is fairly common for parents to stay at the parties.
You’ll see all types of moms at grade-school birthday celebrations, and some, like you, also will have a child with Autism; you’ll also likely meet moms of kiddos with ADHD and/or sensory needs.
Go to the party with your child…and stay. Make sure they feel comfortable, and don’t be afraid to step in if your child needs direction or assistance.
Play to their Strengths
If you’re planning a party for a child with Autism, make sure that the party incorporates their interests. If they love weather, plan for guests to tour a local weather station (did it…private tour for the family!).
Kids who love fire trucks can have their party at the Firehouse (did this, too!). Don’t feel like you have to plan the same party that all the other kids host.
Your child’s birthday party can (and should) be unique. Let their interests shine. You can also opt not to even have a big birthday party…just invite one or two friends for a special event.
Find your friends
Parents sometimes hate to talk about their child’s differences. I embraced open dialogues, and I noticed a lot of my mom friends did too.
The only way parents can understand Autism is by is by helping to educate them. I’ve always felt that if other parents knew why my child acted a certain way or shied away from noise, then they could have a better understanding of him.
And they did…and, in turn, parents also shared nuances about their kiddos in the conversation. Open the dialogue when you feel ready…and comfortable.
While birthday parties can be difficult for many kids with Autism, let them attend…and go with them.
If you’re planning your own party, incorporate your child’s interests in the party theme. Birthday parties are monumental events for school-age kids, and children on the spectrum should get to experience those events just like their peers.
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. She has published articles for Autism Mom including Tips for Protecting Children on the Autism Spectrum Online. She has also published Cyberbullying and Dyslexia and How to Help Your Kids Deal With Bullying.
Also published on Medium.