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These tips have all been sent in by other parents, carers and professionals in the learning disability community. We hope they will give you plenty of ideas to try, but please remember Netbuddy is not responsible for the information provided or any of the activities suggested.
For my son's birthday we had a small number of family over. We had the cake and candles first as this is the bit he likes best. A family friend dressed as as his favourite character came out immediately after. This helped to engage my son. Normally he hides in his room but he stayed with us for much of the party, charmed and thrilled by his visitor!
Use party invitations as a visual aid. Include the structure of the party and what you expect the person to do. Works with symbols or even better actual photographs of where the party is taking place
Get extra pairs of hands for your party by asking at local college offering care courses. Give students opportunities to help and support to learn in return for refreshments, employment references and transport.
Plan in advance and ask for your child's input if appropriate - what kind of party do they want? what friends? what cake etc? Even making invitations for their friends or family. Just so they feel they have some control and can take responsibility and ownership rather than having an event that is 'happening' to them
Our party successFor my son’s 6th birthday we had a v successful party at a hired venue. There were 16 children; 12 of them on the autistic spectrum. We went for a combination of indoor and outdoor play, structured activity, free play and disco with guests free to take part / explore as much or little as they wanted. To limit sensory overload we avoided decorations and balloons. We also made sure we knew in advance what each of the children liked to eat, as we were catering for fussy eaters!
Ride on cars and a bubble machine were a hit outside. And a kaya drumming workshop proved extremely popular. When it came to the disco we didn’t make it completely dark as not everybody wanted to join in. All of the guests had a wonderful time!
If your child/adult struggles to unwrap presents, wrap them in tin foil so there's no tape to undo.
A lot of autistic children have issues with food – my autistic grandson refuses to eat brown food, triangular food or any drinks that aren't red! I would suggest adding a note with birthday party invitations asking parents to write down what their children won't eat.
Sensory games are good for birthday parties – like pass the parcel, where children can feel the paper as they pass it around. A lot of autistic children don't understand the concept of taking turns, so I would avoid games that involve having to wait for your go.
Create a quiet space
Create a quiet area away from the party, so that all the children have a place to go to and something to occupy them away from the party – eg a trampoline, sand, water, bouncy toys, balls, bubbles etc.
When I'm preparing for a party, I let my son stay over at a family member's house, who brings him back for the party, so he doesn't get stressed out by all the activity of preparations. You could also just ask someone to help by occupying your child while you're preparing.
If you have a party entertainer, let them know your child has learning disabilities so they are aware and can tailor games appropriately, eg no flashing lights with discos, no loud music etc.
Crossing off the days
When you are planning a birthday party, put the date in the calendar and let your child know visually when the party is by crossing off the days until the party.
Plan with your child
When you are planning a birthday party, always get your child's input if possible – ie, what kind of party do they want? what friends? what cake etc? Get them making invitations – anything so they feel they have some control, rather than having an event that is 'happening' to them.
Add info on RSVP
Include an 'Add information' section on RSVP of party invites, so people can write their own children's needs, eg 'Needs to be in a separate room if people are singing 'Happy Birthday' or 'Is frightened of balloons'.
Separate party food
Keep party foods separate and maybe even label them, so people know what they're eating.
Special needs screenings
A lot of cinemas have special needs screenings. Great for birthdays!
Keep it calm
Choose calming activities for a birthday party – relaxing music, bubbles, relaxation dvd, story etc.
When you are planning a birthday party, prepare a visual schedule, eg food, pin the tail, pass the parcel, cake. Have an introductory activity, content and concluding activity.
Try to avoid birthday party games that end up with people losing. If they are unavoidable, give losers a job to do, eg the music or catching the next one out. Give the losers small prizes too.
Go into school and make a party with teachers help during class time.
Take the school class/college group/ people they live with on an outing, to share celebration with everyone around and also includes help with carers and facilities including use of minibuses etc.
Free concert at school
Invite musicians from Live Music Now , a charity that brings live music to people who find it hard to access www.livemusicnow.org.uk, to play at School/college/day centre/ residence to share a birthday celebration with people around you, will be a happy boost for friends, helpers, carers.
Hire a hot tub which is great fun – you can borrow hoists from school/college/day centre.
We are lucky that Liam's birthday is in May so we give a birthday picnic lunch in the park for Liam, his friends and some siblings. This works really well as the other kids can sit and have lunch and sing happy birthday and there's plenty of space for the kids to run around. Liam gets huge enjoyment out of being outside and hearing his friends and having food!! I haven't forked out a fortune in hiring a hall or soft play centre which my son can't then enjoy. No mess at home to clear up either!!
Everyone deserves a happy birthday
Birthdays can be a sad time for parents because they remind you of the person's age and what they might be doing if they didn't have their disability. Always remember this is their birthday and they deserve a good celebration.
Focus on the birthday
Do what you think the person will enjoy, don't try to please others.
Party on a different day
I think birthdays can be traps for the unwary, and hard for everyone. I think you just have to work out what suits you and your family & go with that. I tried to divide the day of the party from the actual birthday. This means that you have time to help them enjoy their presents and aren't trying to make sandwiches or ice cake in a rush, and it keeps the tension levels down for everyone.
Activities and outings
We found outings which include an activity such as bowling alleys, tourist attractions, theme parks work well with two or three families. Access and staff at these types of places are generally very helpful and you mostly get concessions on tickets as well as queue jumping perks!
We always think about Adam’s current interests and try to theme his birthday around his favourite things or food of the moment.
Around our area there are childrens party organisers who bring lots of unusual small animals for people to pet. Zoe thoroughly enjoys it and so do her friends. If you cannot find party people who do this or a local farm/pet shop you can always ask around your friends to bring their pets.
We have our parties at home and find sensory games work really well for Special Needs kids and others alike, as it is unusual for them ie parachute games, pop the bubbles, pass the fibre optic, musical statues with glow sticks etc
Borrowing from other people
If you have a party at home, or in a hall, just borrowing toys from lots of different friends may work. Don't feel pressured to do a 2-hour party - it's better to have one hour which is a great success, than longer, which turns out to be filled with stress.
The more planning you do, the better a party will run, so it's worth doing as much as you can beforehand and enlisting as many family and friends to help you on the day as you can.
No all at once!
Colin always loved his parties, but when he was little, he would get so over-excited opening his presents that we had to limit them to a few at a time, to stop him hyper-ventilating.
Horse riding for the disabled
Find your local horse riding for the disabled stables - they usually are happy to run parties and you can always use the club room for a tea afterwards. Great for anyone who has never ridden a horse before.
How many people?
Know your child and make sure you only invite the number of people that he or she can cope with. This may even mean you celebrate a few times with different people ! Also the less guests, the more I can focus on Jez and his enjoyment.
We realised Alex much prefers to be with his therapists and carers rather than his peer group so we make this an opportunity to make a party to say thank you to them.
A friend of ours is a musician – she came and ran a drumming session for a group of 10 and it was brilliant, we all loved it.
I can recommend the Theatre - specially pantomimes which can be inclusive for everyone. Theatre’s often have a party room or area where you can make a tea.
Simon is naturally shy and scared of party entertainers but we found that he loves it when his siblings run the party which is great for everyone.
The level of noise can be a big issue. I suggest you need to be aware of the noise level when you are choosing how you are going to celebrate and how many people you are going to invite.
Pool parties are great, see if you can hire your local hydrotherapy pool. We go to Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital's pool but you can try your local Special Needs School or Physiotherapy Unit at the local hospital.
You can get cheap boxes of indoor fireworks – we get a box occasionaly for some fun. They are good for birthdays, visuals and smells.
Join in or opt out
Always give children the option to join in or opt out of party games.
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