Through Autism Spectrum Australia's work with the autism community, they've discovered that a common concern for parents is how to navigate their own and other children's birthday parties.
Sugar, music, lots of guests and unfamiliar locations can be challenging for children at the best of times, but is especially troublesome when you throw autism into the mix.
But teaching children to be inclusive, as well as celebrating the diversity and differences of their classmates is an important part of growing up. So don't let a challenge turn you off hosting an autism inclusive party.
Tom Tutton, National Manager Aspect Practice & clinical lead Positive Behaviour Support, has a few top tricks to ensure everyone has a good time.
1. It's all about the talk: Touching base with parents ahead of time can help mitigate some of the uncertainty about what's needed on the day. If you're hosting the party for your child with autism, explaining to parents how it might differ to other parties can help them prepare their children ahead of time. Also, if your child has a friend with autism and you're unsure how you can be more inclusive, reaching out to their parents, inviting them along and showing a willingness to make accommodations goes a long way to setting the tone for the day.
2. Structure: Many of us don't appreciate that parties can be quite chaotic, confusing and difficult to join in. The more you have activities that have a structure – a predictable pattern of steps – the better. So for birthday parties, games like 'pass the parcel' are easy to join in.
3. Predictability: The more you can explain what is going to happen and when the better. Typically this is done with some sort of visual timetable and will include start and finish times as well as key events through the party.
4. Expectations: Parties are occasional events and full of 'out of routine' activities. It really helps to have a shared understanding of what is going to happen beforehand (who is coming, why, what the positive social rules are). This might include rules around eating cakes – we wait until someone cuts slices, share with everyone and a maximum of two slices.
5. Alternative activities: Consider having a section of the party with fun things to do as an alternative to the regular party games. Whether that's a slime station, Lego, or activities that are familiar and enjoyable – somewhere to decompress without having to go home
6. Happy birthday song: For some kids, singing the happy birthday song can actually be very overwhelming. For some, it is the noise that causes the meltdown, for others, it is the unexpectedness. Prepare your child ahead of time for when this is going to happen, or else simply go without it. Autism birthday parties don't have to follow any rules, except for the ones you make for them.
7. Be aware of sensory issues: It goes without saying that most kids with autism have sensory issues. Be aware of the amount of noise, smells, touch, and visual chaos in your party and adjust according to your child's needs. Strike a balance between stimulating and relaxing activities. A quiet retreat space is valuable, and be aware of signs of stress or sensory discomfort and act early.
8. Go with the flow: We can't stress this enough – don't have a jam packed strict schedule unless you're prepared to deviate based on everyone's enjoyment. If someone is overwhelmed and wants to sit something out, that's okay! Hide away any items that are very special or difficult to share, and have a good time!
Across July, Autism Spectrum Australia is encouraging people to host parties and get togethers to raise money and awareness for autism in Australia. Download our Big Birthday Bake Club starter pack, and head to our website to register your July event.