You CAN have a party that your child on the autistic spectrum will enjoy if you carefully plan the event in such a way as to ensure your child remains calm and their wishes are preserved and respected.
Article provided by OurBoards’ guest writer Jackie Jennings.
Social occasions are something that activate reward systems in many children and adults, but this isn’t necessarily the case for children on the autistic spectrum. As noted in a study published in the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, children with autism can feel less of a ‘buzz’ when they are in the company of others, which can make them less excited about parties. For children with sensory issues, the excess of noise, loud colours and large numbers of people can overwhelm them, leading them to zone out or have a meltdown.
However, having autism does not mean that you cannot enjoy a celebration. The key for parents wishing to create beautiful memories through a party is to carefully plan the event in such a way as to ensure a child remains calm and their wishes are preserved and respected.
Many parties these days involve structured games or sports – two activities which a child with autism won’t necessarily wish to take part in, especially if the child prefers to avoid long waits or too much competitiveness. Some parents find that hiring a jump park (one with large inflatable structures, trampolines etc) is an excellent solution, because these soft structures are sensory friendly, and they have many different areas for kids to jump and dive into, or even hang from. You can work out if your child will take to this type of play structure by visiting beforehand. One of the most beautiful things about play parks is that each child finds their own ‘perfect spot’, and nobody is singled out because they aren’t ‘playing’.
Story Time And Parties
If you are throwing even a small celebration in which new children will be invited, it’s a good idea to use ‘social stories’ with pictures to show your child what they can expect. These stories may include images of children giving someone a gift, blowing out candles, or playing games. You might also take part in a few role playing sessions. For instance, you might hand your child a beautiful card wishing them a happy birthday, or practise opening up a present. The less surprises there are on the day of their celebration, the better. During story time, you can also practise reactions for when one of you loses a game, stressing the importance of congratulating the winner, for instance. You can also include the party in your child’s weekly visual timetable, so they can count the days until the party.
Making It Meaningful For Your Child
Your child may prefer specific playmates, or wish to avoid loud noises such as shouting. If so, try to ensure that the party isn’t too large or unexpected by inviting children from their usual social circle, and those who are of a similar age. Make sure to stimulate your child with their favourite songs or music. Songs can be powerful; their familiar melodies and lyrics are constants that can help them feel ‘at home’. Of course, not all children on the autistic spectrum enjoy music. Those with auditory defensiveness may find certain tones or reverberations bothersome. It is therefore important to adapt the acoustics of your party to the preferences of your child. Trying out different sound systems may also work. For instance, sometimes children will be triggered by music playing on a car radio, yet they may love clear, crisp music on headphones. Give your child leeway to find the best way to interact with music.
Opting for an open, sensory pleasing party environment, practising for the big day, and using social stories and role plays are three ways in which to eliminate the surprise factor that children on the autistic spectrum can find challenging. To increase your child’s interest in celebrating, how about allowing them to select the theme, and even the music? Making small changes – such as not singing ‘Happy Birthday’ if your child does not enjoy it – will make the party easier and more fun for you and your child. Experimentation and staying positive are key when it comes to finding the perfect way to celebrate a special day.
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Photo of by holding balloons by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels