Parties and social events with autistic children
If you and/or your autistic child want to go to a party or social event, some preparation can help your child know what to expect. And some planning can help you feel more confident. This means you’re both more likely to enjoy yourselves.
Parties are fun. Parties might also help autistic children make new friends and build communication and social skills.
Preparing autistic children for parties and social events
A social story about the event or a visual support could be a good first step. You could focus the story or visual support on something specific, like how to take turns or how to react when someone else wins a game. Or you could ask the party hosts what they’re planning and use a visual support to show your child what’s going to happen when.
Role-plays are another good way to prepare your child for the event. For example, you and your child could role-play some of the things that will happen – for example, arriving, saying hello or taking turns.
Video-modelling can also help. You can buy ready-made videos to help your child learn social skills like taking turns. You could also make your own videos.
Planning for parties and social events with autistic children: tips
These planning tips can make things more enjoyable when you’re going to parties and social events with your autistic child:
- Go to parties or social events only for the parts your child can manage. For example, if a birthday party involves an activity your child enjoys, like craft, just go for that.
- Organise to take turns supervising your child with another trusted adult.
- Plan ahead for what you’ll do if your child feels overwhelmed. For example, plan to take your child for a walk or to sit in a quiet room, or take some favourite toys or books to use if your child needs to calm down.
Hosting parties for autistic children: tips from parents
Planning is the key to holding a successful party for your autistic child. Other parents have found these ideas helpful:
- Plan for a short party with a clear structure.
- Give the party a theme based on your child’s interests.
- Hold the party in a familiar and contained environment like your house or your local play centre.
- Keep unstructured playtime to a minimum.
- Leave out things that you know could distress your child. For example, you might serve the cake without singing ‘Happy birthday’ if your child is sensitive to noise.
- Always have an adult who can help your child nearby. Make sure all the adults know what they can do to help your child cope.
Building skills to help autistic children manage parties and social events
As a longer-term strategy, you can help your autistic child build skills like taking turns, sharing, joining in and calming down. These skills are good for parties and other social events, but they’re also useful in the playground and classroom or when your child is with friends.
For example, you might know that your child gets upset when they lose a game. So you could work on losing gracefully. You could build skills in this area by:
- using a social story that shows that it’s OK to lose
- practising losing at games of chance like ‘snap’ or ‘snakes and ladders’
- teaching your child to say, ‘Well done, you win’
- using a reward of 10 minutes of a favourite activity each time your child uses the script and loses gracefully. You might need to provide the reward at birthday parties to start with.
Our articles on learning to play fair and learning to share have ideas for helping children develop these skills. You can adapt these ideas for your autistic child.