Autism Birthday Party Ideas: Plan A Sensory-Friendly Event
Planning an autism-friendly party can be challenging due to your child’s sensory, communication, and social skills concerns. But if you let your child guide you, you’ll be about to throw a fun and memorable autism birthday party your child will love. When planning, it’s important to listen, watch, and pay attention to what your child likes and what they are comfortable with.
You can start planning a fantastic autistic-friendly event by considering things like:
- What does your child like to play with?
- Which cartoons or shows does your son or daughter always want to watch?
- What sensory-friendly foods do they like to eat?
Determining the answers to these questions will start you off in the right direction. Once you have the activities, theme, and food items figured out, it’s time to start thinking about how to ensure your child and guests can safely and enjoyably celebrate your son or daughter’s big day.
Location, Location, Location
Where you hold your child’s birthday party is the foundation for a successful autism-friendly event. Because many children with autism depend on routine and familiar places, deciding on a good location with your child’s comfort in mind is crucial.
Home is Always a Good Option
You may feel wary of holding your child’s autism-friendly birthday party at your home year after year. But in reality, it’s likely where your child feels most comfortable. With that said, if there are specific toys and areas of the house your child is not likely to share well, it’s a good idea to keep those out of the picture during the party.
Choosing an Outside Venue
If you decide on a location other than your home for your son or daughter’s party, make sure you choose a familiar place. It’s not a good idea to hold it at a place your child has never visited before.
Ask any venues you are considering if they are autism-friendly. Some children’s museums have sensory-friendly areas and allow children to explore at their own pace. This could result in a fun and exciting experience for everyone!
You could also hold a great sensory-friendly event at a relative’s home, as long as it’s somewhere your child is comfortable. A trusted family member who understands your child’s challenges and preferences can help support you and your child throughout the party and allow your son or daughter to celebrate somewhere other than home.
Home or Away – Practice First!
Whether you hold your child with autism’s birthday party in your home or elsewhere, practicing before the big day could help the event run smoothly.
If you’re staying home for the party, consider using a visual schedule with pictures to help your son or daughter understand what will happen and when.
If you’re holding the event elsewhere, arrive at least an hour early to set up and get them acclimated.
Set Expectations For Guests Early
One of the most essential autism-friendly party ideas is to set guest expectations before the event. Because they may or may not be as familiar with your child’s needs, it’s crucial to let them know the “do’s and dont’s.” Always allow family and friends to ask questions about autism, your child, and what to expect at a sensory-friendly event. This alone can reduce stress for you, your son or daughter, and your partygoers.
One way you can do this is to include helpful tips about sensory-friendly events and sensory-friendly gift ideas along with the invitation. Make them aware of your child’s sensory needs, like avoiding loud noises and the need for calming party activities rather than boisterous ones.
Family and friends unfamiliar with autism will rely on your experience with sensory-friendly gifts and autism-friendly social gatherings. The birthday invite can be a great tool to help set up their expectations early. You could limit the party to a few family members and friends and adjust this as your child gets older.
Gifts at an Autism-Friendly Birthday Party
Let partygoers know the plan for gifting on the invitation. This is an emotional tradition for some people, and they will need your gentle guidance on what to do.
- Sensory-friendly options: Consider asking guests to bring books or even sensory-friendly toys like fidgets or calming tools
- Clothing: You may also consider giving your guests the option to purchase your child’s favorite clothing items as a gift. Some children with autism wear the same clothing repeatedly and having a few of the same shirts could be a precious gift for your son or daughter. You could even request larger clothing items so they will have their favorite clothes available after their next growth spurt.
- When to open: It might be a good idea to leave the gift-opening until after the guests leave. While opening gifts is always a fun tradition during the party, at a sensory-friendly event, it may get overwhelming for your son and daughter. You may even opt for no gifts so the birthday boy or girl doesn’t feel put on the spot.
This party is for your child, not everyone else. Some autistic children need sensory-friendly foods; this doesn’t stop because you are having a birthday party. Serving food could be stressful if your child doesn’t like ice cream or cake and a family member encourages them “because it’s a tradition.” You can also let partygoers know in the party invitation that the food will be limited or that you are not serving food.
If your son or daughter likes hot dogs, serve hot dogs. If they want pizza, serve pizza. Don’t sweat this decision. Every idea is on the table (or off the table if you wish).
Have that birthday party outfit ready
Children with ASD can feel empowered when they know what to expect – down to the clothing they wear. Sometimes, parents want children to wear a special t-shirt for the big day but don’t force them if they don’t want to. Remember, the party is for them, not you!
If your son or daughter is interested in getting a new outfit, order or buy the clothes early and let them try them on ahead of time to make sure they feel comfortable in them. Textures can be tricky for children with autism, so this is extremely important.
Or if your child is more interested in their everyday clothes, that’s fine too! If they feel comfortable with what they’re wearing, things will go much smoother.
You want the best sensory-friendly outfit that doesn’t draw attention. Your child with autism will likely not want family and friends pointing and asking about the t-shirt or clothes. So depending on your child’s needs, go with what makes them the most comfortable.
Keep It Short
When planning a sensory-friendly event for your child, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with traditional obligations and others’ expectations. This is your child’s special day, and it shouldn’t be a source of stress. Plan to keep it fun. And the definition of fun is what your child likes, not what anyone else likes.
Many children’s birthday parties are hours long. But if your child’s idea of a fun autism-friendly party is an hour, have it be an hour! Schedule events and display them in the invitation and at the party location. That way, nobody is disappointed when it’s time to leave.
Your child with autism doesn’t require a long, drawn-out, event-filled event for their party. They need a sensory-friendly event with simple themes, a structured schedule, and low-key activities. An autism birthday party may be one of the easiest to plan once you adapt the party to your child’s likes, patterns, and schedules.
Offer a Quiet Place
No matter how much you plan and do your best to adapt to your child’s needs, sometimes even the most autism-friendly birthday party can become overwhelming for your son or daughter.
Whether you hold the party at home or somewhere else, establish a “quiet zone” where your child can go if they feel overwhelmed. Include their favorite toys, activities, and calming tools, and post a “quiet zone” sign outside the space. This is another helpful piece of information to make your guests aware of ahead of time.
We Can Help
We may not be able to plan your child’s autism-friendly birthday party for you, but we can help you and your child reach their full potential so they can enjoy social events like birthday parties more easily.
With locations in Illinois, Texas, and Wisconsin, we’ve helped many parents like you help their children with communication, social, and behavioral skills they may struggle with. We offer in-home and clinic-based ABA services catered specifically to your child’s needs and strive to provide the best clinically-proven ABA services.