SUBMITTED BY JADE BEACHY
AUTISM HOME SUPPORT SERVICES
Autism Awareness Month is a good time to learn more about autism and how to make special occasions such as birthday parties more fun for kids on the spectrum. Many children with autism prefer familiar people, places and routines. Birthday parties are exciting, but the noise and activity can be overwhelming.
As a result, parents of neurotypical children often decide not to invite kids on the spectrum to birthday parties. That’s too bad, because these children and their parents will truly appreciate being invited. Inviting children with autism to birthday parties is also a great way for other kids to see that they can have fun with people who have different strengths and challenges.
It’s also easy to make birthday parties fun for all children, including those on the spectrum. Start by talking to the parents to learn what works best for their child. You’ll likely find that a few simple steps can make all the difference.
Help with preparation. Describe the birthday party to the parents so they can help their child get ready for it.
Tone it down. Loud noise can be uncomfortable for kids with autism. Try including some quieter games in the party, such as Seven Up or a scavenger hunt.
Identify a retreat. Party energy is exciting, but it can also be too much for children with autism. Before the party, choose a place where parents can take a child if they see signs of anxiety or distress. Let them know that they’re welcome to bring favorite toys or comfort items to help soothe the child until he’s ready to rejoin the party.
Avoid food fights. Treats are part of birthday fun, but kids with autism often have specific eating habits or are on a restricted diet. Make sure parents know that it’s fine to bring food and treats their child will enjoy. Don’t push the child to try unfamiliar foods – including birthday cake.
Don’t be hurt if they leave early. If you see parents getting ready to leave – even after 30 minutes – it’s usually because their child is getting agitated. Let the family slip out quietly instead of urging them to stay, or insisting on goodbyes and thank you’s. This will end the child’s party experience on a positive note rather than a meltdown.
Inviting kids with autism to birthday parties is a nice way to show your kids that it’s easy to be kind and inclusive. Being aware and flexible are the keys to making birthday parties fun for everyone.
Jade Beachy is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with Denver’s Autism Home Support Services, an Invo Company. AHSS has served more than 1,900 families in Denver, metro Detroit and Chicago, and offers in-home and center-based therapy in Denver and around the country. You can reach Jade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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