My 5 Tips for Planning a Birthday Party for a Child with Autism

I am the mother of a 4-year old boy on the autism spectrum. After some semi-successful parties, and one mother-of-all-birthday-party meltdowns, we finally had a truly successful birthday party for my son. The guests had a fun time, I was relaxed and more importantly, my son, Brandon, had a meltdown-free, wonderful time. This is what I’ve learned along the way about planning a birthday party for my child with autism.

1. Chose a familiar location.

We are fortunate that Brandon’s birthday is in mid-August, when the weather is perfect for a backyard party. Two years ago, we purchased a child-size bounce house. This year, we purchased a child-size inflatable water slide (from Target) as his birthday present and we set both of them up in our backyard. These investments have been well worth it, especially when you consider how much it costs to do a party at a typical facility. Bottom line — pick a party location that your child loves and is already familiar with. Or, if you do plan the party at an unfamiliar place, I suggest doing a practice run first so your child knows what to expect.

2. Save the presents for later.

Having lots of people in one place is a lot of excitement for anyone. For someone on the autism spectrum, it can be incredibly overwhelming. Opening all his presents while everyone is gathered around him is just too much. By now our party guests already know that he’s not opening presents at his party, so it’s a non-issue. However, in the past when someone handed me a present, I did explain that we would be opening presents later that night when things were calm. That way people weren’t hanging around waiting for us to open presents so they could leave! After guests leave, we open a present here and there throughout the night.

3. Consider sending out invitations a little late.

By the time we invite all of Brandon’s friends, our family friends and our actual family, Brandon’s birthday parties get rather large. That many people in one place is far too overstimulating for Brandon. This year, I sent out invitations much later than I typically do. Some people already had plans so they couldn’t come. This works out great because I didn’t have to cut anyone from guest list (which I couldn’t bear to do), and I can still keep  the attendee count relatively low.

4. No schedule!

I can’t stress this enough. Just go with the flow. The party started at 11, and whatever happened at that point happened. I just let Brandon and the other kids do their thing. We didn’t stop to do any structured games, move to any different rooms or sit down to eat together. I put a buffet of food out and let people eat as they pleased. It was very easygoing.

5. Don’t sweat not doing the “normal” stuff.

This year, we didn’t sing “Happy Birthday” or even blow out candles. If you don’t have a child with special needs, this might seem sad to you. It is a little to me, too. It’s not exactly what I envisioned. But we special needs parents are hyper-in-tune to our children’s temperaments. It wasn’t going to happen for Brandon this year. He was keeping it together, but was a little tense. He had a “Yo Gabba Gabba” Plex cake, so I just showed it to him and cut into it. He didn’t even want any cake until much later in the party. He was just too overwhelmed.

I didn’t try to get him to eat any cake or force him to come over where the party guests were. It’s his party! I just let him do what he wanted to ensure he had a fun time. That’s what it’s all about, anyway. Besides, when he was ready, he grabbed a fork and dug into it himself!

Follow this journey on Ramblings of a Special Mom.

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