Monday 19th September 2022
My Autistic son is turning 5 next month, his last two birthday's have been during Covid lockdowns here in Melbourne, so he's never had a proper birthday party.
It got me thinking, how do you host a sensory inclusive party, whilst making it a fun and memorable time for all? So I'm taking you on my journey of planning his party! I will update this blog post over the next month as we plan and host his first party (which at his request will be "spooky halloween" themed!), hopefully we don't scare the other children coming, but Halloween has been one of his special interests for the last 6 months or so!
A special shout out to @thesensorysloth instagram followers who have already messaged me with ideas to create the inclusive party we want.
Update Sunday 25/09/22
Firstly, why can parties be difficult for children with Autism or Sensory Processing Challenges? Children's parties typically have A LOT of sensory stimulation, think loud music, shouting, singing, unfamiliar social norms and expectations, different food, and new people and environments. For kids with sensory issues, all the excitement can quickly get overwhelming.
That said, there are lots of ways to make sure that events are enjoyable for kids with sensory challenges, and everyone else, too! Here are some ideas for throwing sensory inclusive parties that let everyone have fun in the ways that work for them.
1. Invitations and Pre Party Information
It's a great idea to create a little schedule of activities to include in the invite- that way any children who are attending with sensory sensitivities will know what to expect at the party, and they would be able to better prepare themselves ahead of time.
Also consider adding a little note for the parents on the invitation to let you know if there are any particular sensory considerations you could accomodate to make the party a safe and enjoyable event for their child.
Something I started many years ago was that I have a note in my phone which has friends and family members dietary preferences, allergies and safe foods- obviously things change, but this is an easy way to keep track and not have to constantly ask again and again.
2. Party Games
We won't be having any planned "party games" at our son's party- there are many explicit and implicit rules which kids need to understand and follow when playing party games which can be a real struggle for not only Autistic children, but any child. As well as the winning/losing element of games which can also be a trigger.
Instead we will be setting up Halloween themed sensory stations which the children can move between at their own pace. We will be using some of the amazing products from our Sensory Play area on our website to create these stations including Sensory Rice, Playdough mix, Playdough Accesssories, Fine Motor Tools, we also have a sandpit already in the back yard for more sensory fun!
3. Party Decorations and Favours
If you can, it's a good idea to avoid loud or unpredictable party favours including things like noisemakers or party poppers and if possible, go light on the balloons. Children who are more sensitive to sensory input can be fearful of the balloon popping, which can make activities, and the party itself less comfortable for them.
We have a party guest attending who is fearful of traditional balloons so we will be decorating with alternatives and have just a couple of foil balloons which don't make a loud noise if they pop compared to traditional balloons.
4. Food Considerations
My son finds sitting down for extended periods difficult, so we wont be having a specific time to sit and eat during the party, rather, we will set up a food table for children and adults to help themselves. The food will include a variety of small, easy-to-eat foods which will let kids enjoy what they like and easily avoid what they don’t (making sure we include known safe foods of the party guests).
5. Providing a Chill Out Zone
Providing a quiet area or chill out zone at the party is one of the easiest ways to ensure your party is sensory inclusive, let the kids (and parents) know that if they need a break- no matter when or why- they are welcome to relax there.
We will be setting up our table cubby from Petite Maison as the chill out zone, and will put cushions, books, a weighted toy or blanket, a sensory light and our calm down box inside. Our calm down box is a box filled with fidgets, and sensory calming items from the store including: a Calm Down Bottle, Fidgets Toys, and Ear Muffs.
6. Birthday Song and Cake Time
As already touched on, loud noise can be extremely challenging for many children, but there are many options to make the tradition of Birthday Cake sensory inclusive.
You might decide to serve cake without signing "Happy Birthday" at all if your child is sensitive to noise. You could provide ear muffs if your child still want to be sung too without the loud noise. Include anyone who wants to sing, but don’t require everyone to join in, and normalise letting kids choose what works for them, and offer clear alternatives.
7. Gift Giving
It is common for many children with Autism to become overwhelmed by being the centre of attention, and the ceremony and implicit expectations that come with accepting and opening gifts can be tough for lots of children. This is our son's first birthday party so we don't know how he will respond to the gift opening process, therefore, we've decided to take the pressure off and save the gifts to open them later, after the party. We will send friends and family a video or photo of him opening their gifts so they still get to be part of the process.
8. Have Fun!
Stay tuned for more updates..
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