Parties and other unfamiliar or crowded venues, such as the mall, movies, amusement parks, and live performances, are often especially threatening to children with Sensory Processing challenges or autism who thrive on routine and predictability. With forethought and advanced planning, you and your child will be able to enjoy this party-packed season.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
1. Tell your child in advance where the party will be, who will be there, and what activities the party will include.
2. Let your child know what particularly fun activities he/she can look forward to and what might make him/her uncomfortable.
3. Acknowledge, empathize and discuss the things about parties that are hard for your child. For example, “It really bothers me when music is so loud...What about you think about loud music?...Let's think of what we can do so our ears feel happy.....Great idea, let's take our headphones, (or lets sing the loudest, or cover our ears, or hang out in another room until the music quiets down, or leave before the cake)."
4. Write and illustrate a social skills story with your child so that you can review the "story" over and over again so he/she is prepared.
5. Arrive at the party early to scope it out, when there are fewer people and less commotion.
6. As soon as you get there help your child pick a “safe spot” where he/she is encouraged to go if he/she needs a break from sensory overload. Ideally, find a place that your child can "participate" from long distance, and at least see what's going on.
7. Let your child know if there will be costumed people or clowns, and demystify them. If your child is scared, practice doing dress-up activities, playing clown, Pilgrim or Santa, and reading books about clowns geared to your child’s developmental level.
8. Set reasonable expectations for the amount of time you can spend at a party. You may be better off spending a successful hour and leaving on a high note rather than staying for an unsuccessful two hours.
9. Acknowledge to yourself in advance that you may have to spend more time helping your child acclimate than other parents. That is okay, because handled wisely, your child’s abilities will grow, and you will be able to spend more time with your friends the next time around.
Written by Aviva Goldwasser, MA, OTR and Chaye Lamm Warburg, DPS, OTR