Special Parties for Special Needs
Planning a birthday party for kids with special needs can pose extra challenges.
Here are ideas to help make your child’s big day a happy one.
Hosting the Party
If possible, involve your child in planning, suggests MetroKids MomSpeak blogger Trish Adkins, whose oldest daughter had a brain tumor. “She plans the party with me and a lot of it is left up to her,” says Adkins.
Have a short guest list. “Never feel pressured to invite everyone” in your child’s class, says Adkins.
Make sure the party is well organized and includes a quiet activity, advises Deirdre Wright, founder of the Asperger syndrome group ASCEND. “Review the party structure with the child in advance,” she says. “This can lessen anxiety during transition from one activity to the next.” Limit the time to 2 hours or less, depending on your child’s tolerance for social stimuli. Extra supervision can help maintain calm, so invite your guests’ parents to stay as well.
“Another alternative is to hire a neighborhood teen or two to corral the kids. That can make a huge difference for the parent!” says Wright.
If your child’s guests have special needs, ask their parents if you need to make accommodations. Check for issues such as food allergies.
Some entertainers have worked with children who have special needs. For example, Robert “Professor Bob” Matcovich provides a “Hands-on Science” show that focuses on the senses. “I adapt the presentation and adjust my experiments to match children’s needs,” he says.
The father of a child with special needs, Matcovich frequently works with kids at special needs schools. “An entertainer with experience can free parents to focus on other aspects of the party,” he says.
“Mr. David” Perry provides a variety show centering on drawings, songs and silliness. “I recommend a consultation in advance so I can get a sense of what the kids will respond to and what stimuli they’re most comfortable with,” says Perry, who has frequently worked with the Easter Seals organization.
“When parents have to take time out for crowd management and other aspects of the party, it’s a lot more stress than when a professional can keep them amused and hold their attention,” he says.
Parties Outside The Home
Some arts centers, such as Acting Antics in Malvern, PA; The Center on Central in Paoli, PA; and Jubili Beads & Yarns in Collingswood, NJ have experience working with special needs.
Some entertainment venues offer special needs programs that can accommodate a small group. For example, AMC Cinemas partners with the Autism Society to present monthly “Sensory Friendly Films” for kids with autism. The lights remain on, the sound is turned down and audience members are invited to move as they please.
If you are considering a party outside your home, visit the location ahead of time. If possible, your child can try out the party activity while you observe.
“The more the child knows in advance, the better. Some kids just hate surprises or get frustrated when a highly anticipated activity doesn’t go as planned,” says Wright.
Mark Lauterbach is a MetroKids intern and Temple University journalism student.