Birthday Parties

A parent of an 7-year-old girl with autism asked for some ideas for birthday parties. “Our daughter is invited to birthday parties of kids she knows at school and church,” said the mom. “We would like to have a party for her, but the sensory over-load of balloons, the cake and ice cream, the pile of gifts, and the noisy crowd of kids will probably just lead to a melt-down due to sensory overload. What are some ideas for a special event that allows her to celebrate without the usual birthday party hype?”

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SOME IDEAS. Rather than just having a “traditional” birthday party, plan a very unique experience and invite just a few of your daughter’s favorite friends so she isn’t overwhelmed. + For example, you could plan a memorable birthday celebration around a campfire. Sitting around a campfire is a very relaxing, enjoyable experience for all ages and all levels of ability and disability. Let the youngsters help clear a space on the ground, gather rocks to make a fire ring, and gather twigs and sticks to start the fire. If the fire is in a fire pit, the youngsters can still help gather twigs and sticks and even help stack the logs for the fire. Make certain you have one attentive adult “buddy” assigned to every youngster and give a brief overview of fire safety before lighting the fire. The birthday “cake” can be old-fashioned s’mores with graham crackers, chocolate, and roasted marshmallows. You can sing old-time camp songs or just sit and chat and watch the logs burn down to glowing coals. It would be an unforgettable experience for everyone who attends. + Another idea is to invite some of your daughter’s friends and family members to take a field trip to the zoo. The best time is mid-morning so the group can stroll leisurely without worrying about kids being too loud or rowdy. You might be able to arrange for a “behind the scenes” tour. The group could sing “Happy Birthday” while enjoying ice-cream sandwiches or a bag of popcorn from the zoo’s snack bar. + And there is nothing as much fun as a birthday field trip to the fire station. The firemen will usually let the youngsters sit in the fire truck, try on big fire coats, hats, and boots, and give them a tour of the fire station. The firemen can also talk to the kids about fire safety and how to evacuate in the event of a fire. No matter where you go for your daughter’s birthday celebration, don’t forget to take your camera. And remember, candid shots work best to capture memories of this unforgettable event.

NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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