August 28, 2015

5 Tips for a Planning a Birthday Party for a Child with Autism

I am the mother of a 4-year old boy on the autism spectrum.  After some semi-successful parties, and one mother-of-all-birthday-party meltdowns, we finally had a truly successful birthday party for my son.  The guests had a fun, I was relaxed, and more importantly, Brandon had a meltdown-free, wonderful time.  This is what I have learned along the way about planning a birthday party for a child with autism.

1. Chose a familiar location

We are fortunate that Brandon's birthday is in mid-august, when the weather is perfect for a backyard party.  Two years ago, we purchased a child-size bounce house.  This year we purchase a child-size inflatable water slide (from Target) as his birthday present and we set both of them up in our backyard.  These investments have been well worth it; especially when you consider how much it costs to do a party at a typical facility.  Bottom line - pick a party location that your child loves and is already familiar with.  Or, if you do plan the party at an unfamiliar place, do a practice run first so your child knows what to expect.

2. Open presents later

Having lots of people in one place is a lot of excitement for anyone.  For someone on the autism spectrum it can be incredibly overwhelming   Opening all his presents while everyone is gathered around him is just too much.  By now our party guests already know that he's not opening presents at his party, so it's a non-issue.  However, in the past when someone handed me a present, I did explain that we would be opening presents later that night when things were calm.  That way people weren't hanging around waiting for us to open presents so they could leave!  After guests leave, we open a present here and there throughout the night.

3. Send out invitations a little late

By the time we invite all of Brandon's friends, our family friends, and our actual family, Brandon's birthday parties get rather large.  That many people in one place is far too overstimulating for Brandon.  This year I sent out invitations much later than I typically do.  Some people already had plans so they couldn't come.  This works out great because I didn't have to cut anyone from guest list (which I couldn't bear to do), and I can still keep  the attendee count relatively low.

4. No schedule!

I can't stress this enough.  Just go with the flow.  The party started at 11, and whatever happened at that point happened.  I just let Brandon and the other kids to their thing.  We didn't stop to do any structured games, move to any different rooms, or sit down to eat together.  I put a buffet of food out, and let people eat as they pleased.  It was very easy going.

5. Don't sweat not doing the "normal" stuff

This year we didn't sing happy birthday or even blow out candles.  If you don't have a child with special needs, this might seem sad to you.  It is a little to me, too.  It's not exactly what I envisioned.  But we special needs parents are hyper-in-tune to our children's temperaments.  It wasn't going to happen for Brandon this year.  He was keeping it together, but was a little tense.  He had a Yo Gabba Gabba Plex cake, so I just showed it to him and cut into it.  He didn't even want any cake until much later in the party.  He was just too overwhelmed.  I didn't try to get him to eat any cake or force him to come over where the party guests were.  it's his party!  I just let him do what he wanted to ensure he had a fun time.  That's what it's all about, anyway.  Besides, when he was ready, he grabbed a fork and dug into it himself!


  1. I stumbled upon your site after seeing some of your posts on The Mighty website. This post is going to be awesome as I plan my son's birthday in a few months. I couldn't agree more with the no schedules - times like this are usually centered around my little one's temperament like you said!

    1. The schedule thing is huge. Not opening presents there is part of that. It was so overwhelming for Brandon two years ago that it just upset him. No kid should be upset when they're opening birthday presents!

  2. This is a wonderful post. It is very helpful for me as I am planning to celebrate my son’s birthday in such a great way at the most beautiful kid’s party venues Los Angeles.

  3. When i was a 8 years kid. My father arranged a birthday party for surprised me. It was my first time to jump on a inflatable structure and slide on a dry slide. It was my best memorable day ever. moonwalk rentals


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