My heart breaks into pieces each time I hear children with autism being stood up for their birthday parties. Like any other children out there, many kids with autism and special needs also want to have the same fun and enjoyment. Some may not be able to verbalize it or may feel torn between sensory overload and inner joy, but upon closer look, kids—with special needs or not—love to have fun.
It cannot be denied, however, that parents will be as overwhelmed as their child with autism. Yes, there will be vast amount of stress and energy to consider when preparing for one. The pleasure on your child’s face and the squeals of glee among his coterie will definitely wipe-out all the fatigue and misgivings.
I’ve had my fair share of preparing special occasion parties with John. While he may be what others call “sensory seeker” as he loves being around people and traveling, I cannot help but still feel overwhelmed on what specific aspects to prepare to make the shindig friendly for everyone. It’s a tall order but, trust me, you and the rest will get by. So, how do I always make it happen for John? Here are some tips which may apply to your own child with special needs.
- It is important to ask your child what he wants to do for his birthday. This is not about you or any other family member. Make this day count by asking him if he wants a party. Do not impose your own social meanderings to your child. Some kids simply love it while others would rather do it with just you, Dad, and his siblings.
- Ask what theme he would like to do with his party. Let your preparation revolve around his idea of fun. Would he want a pool party (insert safety warning)? a day in the park or a local playground? a zoo safari? a chicken, macaroni-and-cheese, or pizza palace?
- Once you have set the date, the guest list, and the venue, it is time to think of fun activities and games. There are various activities that will make all kids, with special needs or not, enjoy such as matching halves games, guess-that-smell station, sculpting clay, painting, making alphabet or glitter bottles, and so on.
- Go deep into the children’s interest. Prepare a sensory table for kids to enjoy sifting, squishing or digging into something. This will engage them to their sense of touch, sight, and hearing without feeling overwhelmed.
- When doing party at home, always prepare a battery of cartoon shows. Turn on your Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network channels. This will keep kids glued to one place and may also give them a chance to relax.
- Do make sure to inform the parents or caregivers on these activities beforehand. This will help them plan ahead on how to handle things should a meltdown or any form of challenge occurs.
- Consider safe food options. Gluten-free recipes abound online. Some of your child’s guests may also have special food requests so make sure to add that to your invitation card’s RSVP.
- Transportation, restroom, adult helpers, decors, and other party needs may also be required. So, make sure to get these covered. Ask friends and relatives to help. A local autism community organizer may also be tapped.
- Remind who you invited at least a day before the party. Let your child know what to expect. We have heard a lot of horror stories, of guests not going, leaving your child groping for the hurt.
- Always have a plan B and, perhaps, a C. Three tubs of ice cream on different flavor with one being gluten-free or dairy-free. Different cupcake flavors on top of your birthday cake because someone might not want a sliced-up cake or ma want to blow his or her own cake. Yes, the most surprising things can happen. So, be ready.
While it is going to be a hit-and-miss to hold birthday parties or any other special occasion for that matter, we should never stop doing so for our children. Amid their autism and sensory issues, deep down they are yearning for that connection and enjoyment. The idea is to embrace stress like a best friend with the thought of putting your child’s happiness before your own. As it should be.. for always.
Looking for the best Christmas gift? Check out Pamela Bryson-Weaver’s Living Autism Day by Day: Daily Reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage. Available in Amazon now!
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