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Navigating and Hosting Parties with Sensory Children

April 18, 2019
by Becky Ferrigno

For the average parent, planning a party for their children centers around a party theme, a list of guests and a tremendous amount of food. For parents of children with disabilities, party planning takes on a whole different twist. It has taken years of preparation and disasters for us to find our rhythm. Since we are in mega birthday season at the moment, I thought I would share what helps us successfully (mostly) these exciting and exhausting events!

Party/event prep begins weeks ahead of time with zinc and morning cup of pineapple juice. Our daughter gets very excited and anxious before parties. It results in sleepless nights and full physical collapse directly before or immediately following the event. A year ago our pediatrician suggested putting her on a Zinc/Vitamin C supplement. It has been life changing! We have made it through many major events this year with minor illness setbacks! (This is particularly impressive given the fact that she is in Kindergarten aka germ factory!)

The next aspect of preparation involves balancing what occurs around the date of the big event. We try to make sure there is quiet time before and after the party. Socializing and navigating loud/unpredictable situations requires a lot of energy and this time gives her body the necessary recovery period it requires to reregulate.

Also, we try to limit her to one exciting activity during the weekend, with a healthy meal to refuel following. If that is not possible, then we allow for a lot of TV time between events. We have found this provides her with the chance to disengage and relax.

Hosting a Sensory-Friendly Party

When it comes to planning a sensory-friendly party, it is important to consider a few key points:

  1. Structure
  2. Transitions
  3. Snacks
  4. Music

Structure

Loud, unstructured, chaotic situations are an anxious/sensory kid’s worst nightmare. It leaves them unsure of what to do and how to proceed. Forced into this situation they have two ways out; fight or flight. If you know you have a sensory kiddo coming to your party, try to keep the party mostly structured, with a little free play at the end. You can even go as far as making a visual schedule so that all kids can feel comfortable knowing what is happening next. It doesn’t have to be detailed, a simple list of icons that show the order of events for the party will suffice.

Transitions

I personally love road trips but every time we stop for a break, the transition back into the car is the worst. I know it is necessary but the anticipation of having to sit still for another chunk of hours makes me want to flee. It doesn’t matter where we are headed, I still don’t want to get back into the car.

This is what a party feels like for a neuro-atypical child. They want to participate and they are excited to be there but every transition is exhausting and so sometimes they can shut down or explode.

You can help prevent the meltdown by alternating between larger movement activities and more focused close work projects. When you alternate between games like pin the tail on the donkey and a craft like beads, putty or coloring, sensory kids are able to narrow the focus and re-regulate faster. It is also a great technique to emphasize different strengths found among all of your guests!

Snacks

This brings me to the all-important topic of food. Of course, every party will have cake and ice cream but if you are thinking of providing snacks as well, here are some things to think about. Sugar is an inflammatory food and something many kids are sensitive to; we don’t call it a “sugar high” for nothing! So think about offering salty or healthy crunchy snacks to compliment your sugary dessert. Not only will they provide carbohydrates that will help refuel your overworked sensory kid, but they also will provide them with proprioceptive input! Proprioceptive input helps a child re-regulate themselves when their body is becoming overwhelmed. My go-to snacks are pretzels or popcorn but carrot sticks will do the trick too!

Also, offering water will help all kids stay hydrated and ready to play the entire time!

Music

I want to begin by saying that I am a music teacher by trade. I love music and my life is full of it. But unless you are hosting a dance party, music has no business at a party. Music is such a personal choice and can be very stimulating for a sensory child. In addition, when music is on, people naturally talk louder, become more elevated and hyper. This energy is a recipe for disaster for the naturally sensitive sensory kid. So if you want music at your party, encourage the kids to sing. Host a dance party during the last 15 minutes. But try to avoid turning it on for background music through the whole party. It will just wind too many kids up in ways they don’t understand.

I hope you have found this post informative. We have managed to host two parties for our sensory girl back to back weekends and this formula has resulted in mostly successful results!

As always, keep learning and growing!

Until next time,

Becky

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