If you have a child with special needs, you know the disappointment that comes when they are invited to an activity that they can’t participate in. You’ve seen the defeated look on their face when they watch the other kids having a great time, or the look of sadness in their eyes when they can’t have cake and ice cream with everyone else. You’ve also seen how much of a difference it can make when others take a little time and effort to include them in the fun.
If you don’t have a child with special needs, chances are your kids will make all different types of friends in their lifetime. Being sensitive to someone’s needs without making a big deal of them is the best way to make them feel welcome and included. Being that birthday parties happen once a year, and that these are the cases where individuals with special needs feel left out the most, I’ve comprised some tips and ideas on how to throw a birthday party that all of your children’s friends can enjoy.
A lot of children have dietary restrictions for many different reasons. One of the most common is food allergies. Some children can get really sick ingesting certain foods, while others risk anaphylactic shock. In extremely severe cases, people can have what’s called an “in the room” allergy, where they risk a reaction simply from being in the same room as the substance they are allergic to. If you plan on serving food at your party, it’s a good idea to ask parents to inform you of any allergies when they RSVP. It’s always better to play it safe from the get-go.
Another common cause for dietary restrictions is juvenile diabetes. Even type 2 diabetes, which was once thought to be strictly an adult disease, is being diagnosed in more and more children each year. It’s difficult for diabetic children to indulge in treats, especially if their blood sugar is high.
If you know you have a diabetic child attending your party, consider making some sugar free birthday treats. If a cake without sugar is just unimaginable, try swapping out the traditional birthday dessert for a soda float bar, with sugar-free ice cream and pop options. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love a good float. If a piñata is on the docket, fill it with inexpensive party favors and sugar free candy.
There are all sorts of physical disabilities that can limit the activities each child can participate in. It will definitely make everyone’s day if you try to ensure that there are games that children of all abilities can participate in. For younger children, a sensory party with different materials and bins of things they can touch and feel is a great way to include all abilities and foster learning and growth. If it’s warm enough, swimming or even a homemade backyard water park can be enjoyed by almost all, and indoor games that are more verbal than physical are still super fun.
If your home isn’t wheelchair accessible, there are several great options that all of your children’s friends can partake in. A playground or park-like setting with lots of grass, gravel, or rocks can be hard to navigate, but paved outdoor settings like a zoo can be great. Also, the majority of bowling alleys are wheelchair accessible, and offer free equipment to help individuals of all abilities hit a strike.
Developmental and Sensory Limitations
Many children don’t enjoy environments with high amounts of stimulation. There are lots of common disorders that cause sensory sensitivity, of them, the most common is autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder covers many different types of autism across a spectrum, meaning it’s different for each child. One thing that many individuals with autism have in common is that they dislike high amounts of stimuli. A place like Chuck-E-Cheese or a theme park would not be an ideal party location if you’re inviting someone on the spectrum. A quiet park or calm restaurant can be a good option. If you’re hosting a party at your house, consider setting aside a room with a few age-appropriate toys, games, or books that children can escape to if the festivities become too much.
Developmental disabilities also come in a very wide range, and can affect each child differently. Consider offering games that don’t have too many rules or activities that aren’t strictly defined and up to each individual child. Word games won’t be too much fun for someone with dyslexia, while active-participation sports may. There are also some fun activities that have a therapeutic aspect, like horseback riding. Try to be sensitive to the needs of every child without making it apparent, and everyone will have fun.
Behavioral disorders also come in all shapes and sizes. The most common among children is ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Children with ADHD have trouble sitting still and staying focused, and need space to breathe. While it is good for them to practice patience, a birthday party is not the time to be doing so. A quiet tea party or movie can be tough to make it through, so consider offering some outside play to those who don’t want to participate in anything that might not hold their attention. Hosting a party at a park or gym may be a great option, as children will generally entertain themselves the entire time without needing much attention from adults. In the end, the best thing you can offer is patience and understanding.
These are just a few of the most common examples of special needs. Remember that every child is unique, but they all want to be included in the fun and feel like a part of the festivities. Hopefully these tips can help you throw a birthday party where everyone feels warm and welcome.