As the parents of special needs children, we all want our kiddos to have happy and memorable childhoods. For many children, a large portion of that equation is the development of social skills and friendships with both their typical (and not so typical) peers. Along with play dates, activities, and sports clubs, part of the unwritten social contract entrenched within these friendships is attending and participating in each other’s birthday parties. For the parents of autistic children, this prospect can be bittersweet. The thrill of finding a birthday party invite in our child’s backpack can quickly turn to sheer panic as you envision the chaos and sheer pandemonium playing as a continuous movie loop in your minds eye. As much as you know the importance of participation and peer interaction social skills, the thought of your movie playing out in real time in front of others is way too daunting; so you reluctantly check the “respectfully decline” box.
Birthday parties in general can be over stimulating on a sensory levels as well as very challenging on a social level. Learning to wait and take turns playing games, sharing, and understanding complex social skills are difficult concepts to grasp, even for children without a diagnosis. Knowing that the the birthday girl or boy is in charge of the party and only the birthday child can blow out the candles or open the presents are skills that our kids need to practice and are not necessarily inherent.
There are many teachers and therapists that implement proactive strategies including modeling, role playing and social stories however nothing beats learning and practice in the actual environment that the event takes place. Seldom can variable be taken into consideration in contrived practice settings. New sights, new sounds, unknown games and expectations may interfere with your child’s ability to maintain the same interactions they have at school. Let’s face it, meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are the primary reason parents avoid going anywhere further isolating themselves and unwittingly, their children.
Businesses we are working with in the Missing Piece Awareness Network are not just proud of the work they are doing but are eager to learn more. In conjunction with our partners we are now expanding our outreach by hosting structured “birthday parties” social groups. During this 90 minute time frame the facilitators (or trainers which one sounds better) from Missing Piece Awareness will lead the “party”. Whether it is time to play, paint, jump or be a princess for a day, the group will follow the routine of what a typical party at that venue would look like. The staff from the party venue will benefit from the experience and get to know your child as well.
With this new opportunity for you and your child to practice skills necessary to attend a birthday party in a safe and secure environment, you may be able to breath a sigh of relief, let go of some of your anxiety, and finally have the confidence to check the “will attend” box. Once you and your child have had success at a birthday party, it will open doors to a whole new world.
What would be helpful for you? We would love to know.