This article on ‘socialising and autism: tips for party throwers’ is offered by Adrian Johansen.
Everyone deserves to be able to celebrate life’s milestones. However, throwing a party for a birthday, graduation, anniversary, or any special celebration typically involves some planning. Here are some tips on socialising and autism and throwing parties.
When you have a loved one with autism, it might take a bit of extra planning to ensure they feel comfortable and safe. Whether you’re a primary caregiver or you just want to make sure the person you care about feels appreciated, knowing how to throw a party when an autistic child or adult will be there doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
With a few helpful tips and a little extra planning, you can put together a perfect party that everyone will enjoy — including those with autism. Let’s cover a few of those tips, so you can start thinking about what to do for your next celebration.
Make Things Sensory-friendly
Perhaps the most important tip for an autism-friendly party is ensuring no one gets overwhelmed or overloaded by too much going on at once. Sensory overload can be caused by a variety of things, including:
- Loud noises;
- Too many people;
- Certain textures or materials;
- Too many choices.
Typically, parties are a bit noisy and there can be multiple things going on at once. Luckily, there are steps you can take to avoid sensory overload and create an autism-friendly environment — while ensuring everyone has a good time.
One of the best ways to make your loved one with autism feel comfortable is to host the party in a space with which they’re familiar. Try to keep the guest list relatively small, and you’ll be able to bring everyone into your family’s entertainment room or another familiar, comfortable area of the home. By keeping things relatively isolated to one room or area, you can also decorate that space in a more subdued way with less vibrant colours and fewer things hanging on the walls.
Communication can be a challenge for people on the spectrum, so make sure to invite people your loved one knows and has communicated with before. The more people who understand how the autistic individual communicates, the more comfortable they’ll be. You can give newer guests some helpful tips on how to approach an autistic child or adult because everyone deserves to feel comfortable and prepared.
Plan for Anything
Even if you’ve done everything in your power to create a sensory-friendly and inviting environment, you can’t control everything. Maybe your loved one will get triggered by the “Happy Birthday” song, or maybe a loud car pulling into the driveway will cause them to get upset. In these cases, it’s important to have a plan of action you can take to calm down your loved one without having to end the party.
That plan will differ depending on whether you’re working with a child or an adult. However, some effective ideas include:
- Going with them to a separate room;
- Taking them for a walk;
- Asking them to breathe with you;
- Giving a favourite toy or book to your child.
It’s a good idea to have others there who know how to make that person feel comfortable, too. Even if you’re the primary caregiver, you don’t have to bear the responsibility of taking care of everything and everyone at the party by yourself. Consider delegating some primary party duties to other family members so you can focus on taking care of your loved one as much as necessary.
If you’re planning a party and you know someone is bringing a child or even another grown-up with autism, consider adding ideas and suggestions to your party announcement or invitations. All announcements should include the time and location of the event, but you could also incorporate information about planned party activities. The goal isn’t to make anyone stand out but to prepare everyone so they can fully enjoy themselves.
Try Role-Playing with Your Child
If you have an autistic child, they might feel overwhelmed by the idea of going to a party. It can be a big and, perhaps, frightening thing for them. One way to combat that is by role-playing with them before the day of the party.
Doing so will help them get used to different situations and will assure them that they don’t have to feel overwhelmed by guests or anything that might be happening at the event. You might not be able to mimic things with complete accuracy. However, combining role-playing with modelling social communication and conversation skills for your child with autism can make a big difference.
It’s also important for your child with autism to be able to understand emotions. Talk about different emotions with them, even using flashcards when necessary. When they can tap into their emotions and express them in healthy ways, you’re less likely to experience an autism meltdown at the party. Rather, they’ll be able to come to you if they’re feeling overwhelmed and distressed, and they can work through those feelings safely. You might need to let them go to a different room for a few minutes to bring down those feelings, but they’ll be much calmer and more direct when they can articulate what’s going on in their head and heart.
There’s no reason you can’t host a party when someone you care about is autistic — especially if that party is meant to celebrate them! Put these tips into practice to ensure they enjoy themselves at the event and to reduce your own stress as you plan the perfect party.
If you need help looking for services for an individual with an autism spectrum condition, we will do our best to help. Click below for the Autism Placement Support Service.