The lights, sounds and excitement of a birthday party are a welcome event for most kids. But if your child deals with one or more sensory-processing disorders, a birthday party can be stressful and overwhelming for both them and you. Depending on the type and severity of a child’s SPD, it is still possible to host a party outside the home, but experts recommend approaching the party planning a bit differently to ensure that every child — whether the birthday kid or a guest — has a good time.
Many birthday parties cut into nap time, or start serving sweets before noon. For a child with SPD, this can lead to overload sooner rather than later. Choose a time of day that kids would normally all be awake (and eating) so that routines aren’t interrupted too much. In addition, consider reducing the length of the official party to an hour, or even less. This could work well at louder venues, because guests can either head home after a bit to decompress or continue to play.
Ask about special needs
If you’re throwing the party and your child isn’t sensory sensitive, ask the parents of your guests if their children are as part of the RSVP. For sensory-sensitive guests, work with parents on ways to help their child feel comfortable. They’ve been through this every day and know their children best. Also remember that every child with SPD experiences symptoms differently, so find custom solutions that work for your particular situation.
Do a trial run
As with any social situation, make sure your sensory sensitive child is well-prepared. Talk in advance about everything that will happen, and what they can expect. Home-based parties will be familiar, but if you choose to venture out, scope out the location in-person ahead of time, and perhaps bring your child along so that they’re not entering unfamiliar territory on party day. Watch them closely to see how they react and how long they are comfortable.
Block out the stimuli
For parties at louder venues, consider bringing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones for children with SPD. The noises of an arcade can be fun for a lot of children, but deafening for kids with sensory issues. Skip balloons that can easily pop, and maybe even skip the happy birthday song. One mom suggests just whispering your best wishes in your child’s ear instead.
Offer variety, and a way out
If kids will be exposed to the lights and sounds of an entertainment center, consider setting up an out-of-the-way space where guests who need some downtime can get away — a book nook in one corner of the party room, for example — or sensory friendly birthday party activities like coloring as alternatives to bowling or arcade games.
We believe birthday parties should be fun for everyone involved. If you’re planning a special day that includes a child with SPD, contact one of our party-planning experts to plan the perfect party for everyone in your group.