Birthday parties are fun and an endearing part of childhood.
However, a birthday party can be overwhelming for any child with sensory sensitivity.
In addition, for children with autism, anxiety, and sensory overload, birthday parties are not fun.
For the adults planning a birthday party, it can also be overwhelming to figure out how to turn something that is inherently sensory-rich, into something that your child with sensory sensitivity, for any reason, will enjoy.
Throw a sensory-friendly birthday party.
It is more than likely other children (and their parents alike) will enjoy a sensory-friendly birthday party too!
Here are 10 tips for an easy and fun sensory-friendly birthday party.
When it comes to birthday parties, pick a theme your child likes, and is familiar with. There will be many new experiences at the party. Keep the theme familiar to your child, and something they already love. You might be tired of dinosaurs, super-heroes, or princesses, but keeping things the same helps reduce stress and anxiety for your child.
Think of how many people your child can handle. Keep in mind that it’s best to have a small, low-key party and a (really) short guest list. Choose your guests wisely! Who will be understanding if the birthday child needs to take a break and chill in their bedroom for a while? Invite those kinds of guests! Think about having a birthday family dinner and a birthday party with friends as separate events if needed to keep the guest list small and manageable. Start a new tradition by doing so, and make everyone feel special.
When it comes to choosing a location, keeping your birthday party sensory-friendly by going with the familiar. That may be your home, every year. All the more reason to keep the guest list (and clean up thereafter) small. If you are going somewhere else, practice first! Avoid hosting a birthday party at a place that your child has never visited before. And choose a place that offers a sensory-friendly birthday party or a sensory-friendly experience.
Turn off the background music. Don’t hand out noisemakers. If you use music in party games, then alternate with activities that are quiet or silent. So musical chairs followed by a craft at the table. Choose balloons that don’t easily pop. If possible, you may need to skip singing the happy birthday song too. That’s OK! Create a new way of the group showing their appreciation of the birthday celebrant. Have guests each make a happy birthday sign or drawing as part of a craft, that they can then each show the birthday child.
Ice cream, cake, and pop are not necessarily a sensory-friendly choice. Did you know you can choose sensory-friendly snacks? Use fruits and vegetables to create special treats, like some of these fruit and vegetable creations. Crunchy fruits and vegetables make your mouth work to chew and swallow them. Smoothies sucked through a straw also make mouth muscles work. Making muscles move and work has a calming and organizing effect on the nervous system.
Keep everyone happy and entertained by having different types of activities available and planned. Muscle work that is organized and repetitive is helpful. As are activities that use deep breathing. Some ideas for calming birthday party activities are:
Whether you are hosting the sensory-friendly birthday party in your home or somewhere else, create a quiet zone where your child or anyone else can go to take a break and chill out. Post a “quiet zone” sign. Place a comfy chair in the space. Add ear muffs. And maybe some fidgets.
Your child may not be comfortable being the center of attention. So ditch the birthday song and public gift opening. Once again, create new traditions that work for your child. Maybe split up the group of guests into doing different activities in different rooms to keep the party feeling less busy (and less noisy).
Every child is unique and sometimes unpredictable. Designate some trusted adults or older children as helpers and re-directors of fun if some guests become too boisterous. Many children love responsibilities too! Have some extra quiet games on hand.
We wish you a happy sensory-friendly birthday!
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Christel Seeberger worked as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has sensory sensitivity herself; she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016. Sensory Friendly Solutions brings together people around the world looking for sensory friendly living and businesses and organizations who offer sensory friendly experiences.