Planning a party for children is something a lot of us just take for granted. There’s lollies, chips, music, games and lots and lots of energy and of course lots and lots of noise.
For children with Autism though, this type of party can be too overwhelming and may lead to a ‘meltdown’ for the child as the stimulation is just too much. So how DO you plan a party for children with Autism?
1. Start small.
Keeping the guest list to a close circle of friends whom the child feels familiar and comfortable with will minimise the overwhelming feeling. The guests should preferably be understanding of the child’s need to just walk away from the party and spend some time in another room by themselves without being pressured to stay where the action is happening.
Always have a quiet place readily available for the child to go to when its getting too much for them, just for them to take a breather and recharge. You can even decorate that space so it follows the party theme.
Choose a location that is familiar to the child. Parties at their home or the park they often play at are great as they have that familiarity and ‘safe’ feeling.
Chose a theme your child likes. Discuss with them what they would like at their party. This may be ‘Frozen’, dogs, cars or anything. It’s a way of making the child feel super special because they got to choose such an important part of their day. This doesn’t need to be over the top – a simple table setting with a few items for the theme would be fabulous.
Not all party games has to be full of energy, running around, and balloon-popping. Choose activities that the child likes doing and is comfortable with. A great activity to include in your party is crafts. It allows the children to either participate, stand back and watch or leave the area without feeling like they are being made to stay. Parents can also participate in this activity. Another activity could be water play (depending on the weather) which could be as simple as a large container with boats or floating animals. These are great for the imagination too!
If there is a favourite sound track that the child loves, have it playing unobtrusively in the background.
6. Cake time!
Keep it simple. Don’t expect the children to all remain seated, patiently waiting until the cake comes. Let them wander if they want, but also take note of the things they love doing. For example, most children love singing Happy Birthday so make sure this is done. Once again, not everyone might be interested, but it is a special part of a birthday party and little eyes will light up.
If the birthday celebrant finds this overwhelming and needs to just go to another area, let them. Remember this is their day and the less pressure on them, the happier they will be. They may also be more accepting of any future parties that may occur.
This can be a very confronting time of a party. While some children are happy to open their gifts in front of their guests, being the centre of attention can be extremely confronting. If guests bring gifts, let them know that the child will be opening the presents when they get home. Another great idea is to send them a little thank you note with a photo of the child opening their gift.
And some final reminders
Most importantly when planning a party for a child with Autism, never expect things to go to plan. Be flexible because not everything will go as you want it to. Remember that this is okay because this is not your party – it’s the child’s party.
Let the guests know prior to the party that there may be a chance it will have to end abruptly with no notice if the child is not coping with the situation. Having aware and understanding guests (and parents) takes pressure off you to hold ‘the perfect’ party and just focus on having an enjoyable time for your child.
Ensure that you talk to the child well in advance so they will know what is going to happen and why. Just take time to make it more familiar to the child so that the changes to routines will not be as unexpected and confusing.
Every child is different – a party with guests may be something that is not an option. Maybe a small family ‘party’ with immediate family only, very low key but still a special time for them. Other children might just enjoy a special family trip to the beach, a park or bushwalk instead of a party. It’s their day, so their happiness and comfort is what it’s all about.
Do you know more tips for holding parties for children with Autism?