PLANNING YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY
Children love birthday parties, especially if it’s their own. Kids always look forward to celebrating their big day with friends and family and the idea of games, food, and gifts are sure to make them even more excited just by thinking about it weeks before their birthday. Many parents too are extremely enthusiastic in taking the job of planning a birthday party celebration, especially for their kids. From the theme of the event, down to the birthday cake design, every parent will have to decide on many things that will all contribute to the success of the celebration. Seeing their efforts come to fruition as seen from the smiles of their child and guests, parents will always know that planning a birthday celebration is a very rewarding experience. But what happens when your child is autistic?
There are many accounts of well-planned birthday celebrations that ended up being a disaster just because the event planner did not consider the autistic condition of the celebrant. Many parents believe that all children are the same when it comes to birthday occasion. What they don’t know is that those who fall on the autism spectrum are one of the few special cases of individuals who find social gatherings such as a birthday party as a battleground instead of an event worthy of celebration. If you’re a parent of an autistic child, and it’s the first time that you consider planning a birthday party celebration for your kid, the following tips will help you turn it into a successful event despite your child’s condition.
Center the Party’s Theme on Your Child’s Favorites
Children with autism often have very short attention span on things that don’t really perk up their interest. If you build the birthday party from your own preference of concept or theme, it will most likely not end up as memorable or special for your child no matter how grand and well-attended it is. To make your child enjoy and treasure the celebration, one of the most crucial things to do is to plan the whole event based on your child’s favourite cartoon character, animal, toy, or food. If the theme revolves around these specific interests that your child is heavily attached to, it will come down as one of the most memorable birthday events for him or her.
Share the Party Schedule with Your Child
If you are used to making birthday surprises for other people, you might need to try a different approach when it comes to your child’s birthday celebration. While surprises are good for neurotypical persons, the same can be overwhelming for an autistic individual, which can trigger a negative response such as a meltdown. It is encouraged that the event organizer must share the concepts of the activities planned for the party, as well as the expected time frame and sequence for each event so that the child will have a better idea of what they would expect to happen in the party. If there is stuff that the child can’t understand by mere verbal explanation, it would be better to show them a picture or video depicting it.
Consider Your Child’s Sensory Issues
One of the primary causes of an autistic child’s possible outburst in a social gathering is their unaddressed sensory issues. It could be that they want to touch or feel something but they can’t, or there is a presence of one or more overwhelming sensory inputs in the venue. While accommodating the guests and managing other aspects of the celebration, it is very important that there should also be someone looking out for your child’s needs to make sure that sensory issues are addressed. If you think it would be difficult to keep your eyes on your child throughout the whole duration of the event, you have to find ways to minimize sensory inputs or provide the same to your child.
In relation to sensory problems, the venue of the birthday celebration must also be chosen based on the same factors. The home is indeed the most familiar venue for your child, where you can freely adjust the ambience with the help of decorations and set ups. But if you want to stimulate your child’s liveliness during the party, you have to step up your game and choose a different location.
Be Mindful Whom You Send Your Invitations To
If your autistic child is studying in a classroom mixed together with neurotypical classmates, it might not be a good idea to invite everyone in the class without proper consideration. Kids need to be constantly checked by their parents especially on social gatherings where good behaviour and proper manners are expected to be observed. When you invite so many of your child’s classmates, chances are some parents might not know about your child’s condition which would not prompt them to orient their kids about how to behave in the party, or watch out what their kid is doing when the party starts. Although you might want to talk to these parents, you will be very busy yourself that you won’t have the time to meet them and talk about your child’s condition.
If Possible, Discourage Gift-Wrapped Presents
Many autistic children become easily overwhelmed when they are given wrapped gifts and are expected to open it at the time they receive it. The pressure from the people anticipating, sensory stimuli caused by opening the present, and their very own expectation about the gift, can cause a sudden meltdown to trigger. When this happens, the whole essence of the party may be spoiled as the birthday celebrant cannot participate in it. What might be a better idea besides giving gift-wrapped presents? You can either coordinate with an autism community or institution to raise a charity event where the guests can make donations instead of giving your child a present. It would also be better to tell your child what you’re going to give them as a birthday present even weeks before the actual date to lessen anxiety on their part.