Over the years, I’ve had several moms of children with autism ask me how to approach parties with their kiddos ~ specifically birthday parties. So today I want to share some practical tips on how to plan a party and prepare your child for the big day.
My son Alex is on the autism spectrum. Although his condition is sometimes hard to manage and comes with some limitations, I always remind him that he’s not defined by it. Now, it’s one thing for me to say it and another thing for him to live it out. One of the ways I’ve tried to love and support Alex is by doing things that validate him and how he enjoys experiencing life.
So, when it comes to his birthday, I make sure he is able to celebrate and enjoy his parties just as much as his classmates. My priority is to create a comfortable environment in which he can enjoy himself and not feel overwhelmed. The truth is, it’s always going to be an intense experience, so it’s imperative to invite other children who will rally around your child, be a buddy, and allow them to feel safe being themselves.
I don’t speak for every child with autism…the spectrum is so broad! But when it comes to Alex, setting up birthday parties takes lots of careful planning. It took a couple practice runs to learn what worked really well. The more practice we had, the more Alex got used to the process, and the more fun he had. Now he even enjoys being a part of the planning.
What’s the Benefit of Birthday Parties?
Before we dive into the logistics of how to plan a party, I think it’s important to share how it can have such a positive impact in your child’s life. Birthday parties can serve as a foundation to build great friendships outside of school. They can:
- Give your child confidence to go back to school and excel.
- Create a sense of camaraderie with others.
- Help your child learn more and grow (socially and emotionally).
How to Create a Healthy Birthday Party Environment
The group needs to be small. When kids are younger, it’s less about the specific people and more about the planned activities. Pre-teens need a solid circle of friends and protective buddies.
Step 1: I would ask your child questions like: Do you talk to this person a lot? Or do you feel comfortable around this person? For more advice, ask a teacher how the kids interact during school and who would be “safe” birthday invitees.
Step 2: Decide on an activity and choose it together. By now, Alex is well aware of things he likes and dislikes. We get together and brainstorm to come up with something he LOVES doing. Then we narrow it down to an activity that will also be engaging for the other kids. Make sure it’s an activity that can be structured and last no more than an hour.
Step 3: Come up with 8-10 names and put together an invite with details to send out to parents. You might want to make a personal phone call to each parent to tell them about the party plans.
One More Big Thing:
Before the party, I walk Alex through what to expect. It’s important that I prepare him ahead of time. For example, when we pick a location other than home, he needs to visualize everything in advance. I walk him through the entire party like a little mini role play session. Then, at the party, it’s fresh in his memory so it’s not as exhausting to take in all the sensory information at once.
Birthday Theme Ideas That Worked for Us
Mad Science Party – Going to a local science museum or having some fun science experiment tables are popular activities.
Magic Party – Having a magician or someone who can teach card tricks is tons of fun.
Flight Deck Simulation Party – Great for those who love aviation and kids get to feel like they’re flying! Check out my son, Alex’s Top Gun party:
Special Interest Party – Depending on your child’s special interests, have a specialist come to do a structured activity. Cooking lesson? Baking party? Artists-in-residence experience? It’s easy to come up with ideas once you zero in on the activities that will excite your child.
Every party theme we came up with was something that Alex loved. For the flight simulation party, we tried it ahead of time so Alex knew what to expect. For the magic party, he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to process the information quick enough. To prepare, we watched YouTube videos and checked out websites so that he felt more comfortable with card tricks.
Birthday parties are a wonderful way to celebrate and our children on the autism spectrum deserve these special rites of passage. With some careful planning, role playing, and creativity, you can pull off a memorable, rewarding event for both you and your child!
*Zuma Ayriyan is the founder of Splash of Teal, a fashion and lifestyle blog. Her youngest son, Alex, is on the autism spectrum and he has taught her important lessons of patience, strength and kindness. Follow her on Instagram for more tips, ideas, and everyday inspiration to live your best life.
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