Tips for Getting a Toddler with ASD Birthday Party Ready
I have a two year old. My wonderful boy takes time to warm up to new places and people. I secretly pray he holds his observation, taking time, and “taking it in” parts of his personality through to his adulthood. I have had the opportunity to observe other toddlers and this easing into new things is pretty common. So imagine this typical trait coupled with challenges of noise, food, sudden and never ending demands to say hello, play (even if it’s not your strength), and talk upon demand. This description sounds like speed dating, a corporate networking mixer…but no… I am describing the toddler birthday party experience.
I have been a therapist working with families with autism for many years. And I watch the struggle and my heart sinks for the families and the child often during birthday party celebrations. Not because it’s not celebratory, but I think it can be one of those glaring reminders that your child is different. And that difference is interfering with the experience of the birthday party. After attending one too many toddler functions with my son (birthday party, gymnastics playgroup, music class, and many others), I thought what tips could parents use to make the experience more enjoyable and not seem like extra work and hidden disappointment?
1. Focus on YOUR child. Your child’s fun. Your child’s needs. Shutting out all other opportunities to compare and zoning in to your little one, will bring more comfort in attending to their needs if they are having a hard time. And by focusing on your child, there will be an ease of your own emotional state of calm that your child will sense and respond to.
2. Visit the party site first and have fun there BEFORE the party. This will give your child the warm up they need and space familiarity.
3. Demand ZERO. Toddlers can be fickle even without a diagnosis. People can be fickle regardless of age and diagnosis. In social situations of birthday parties, reduce the demand for your child to greet every guest and say their new age number. Host on behalf of your child and let them have fun rather than responding the onslaught of how old are you impressive question/answer sessions…
4. Understand NOISE tolerance. My son does not like sudden noises that he cannot detect nor note their name. I know if there is a noise and he cannot label it, I must supply it to his worried face, pairing this with “It’s okay, I won’t let it hurt you.” With or without a diagnosis, understand this about your child. If your child has autism or a related disorder, a noisy place full of unpredictable noises and strangers, may not be the best combination. This leads me back to point number one….focus on your child.
5. Blow out the candles together. If your child has trouble in this area of oral motor strength and sequencing…don’t sweat it. Blow the candles out together.
Last week, I received a text from my father that said “Enjoy Life”. He says that to me a lot and this week he added something his father told him “Life is to be enjoyed, not endured”. I leave you with that not to erase a diagnosis or the challenges that it brings, but as a simple reminder as you move through the day. For me, this reminder took some pressure off and I got myself an ice cream, noticed the sun, and rolled on the floor laughing with my son. I took that moment to enjoy. Birthday parties are that moment…so enjoy.
Landria Seals Green, MA, CCC-SLP