Birthdays are something most children look forward to for months in advance. Along with presents, at some point in a child’s life they usually enjoy the anticipation and excitement of a birthday party. As a parent of a son (BJ) with special needs I’ve always wanted my son to experience as many of the usual childhood pleasures as possible. Despite this I do feel anxious at times about how to deliver something that will work for BJ and his friends.
BIRTHDAY PARTY IDEAS FOR KIDS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
We have celebrated his birthday with a mixture of parties, special outings and as he has grown older, weekends away filled with activities he loves. I thought I’d share a few of these ideas.. I am including some of my daughter’s (AJ) parties which can be adapted and may help with ideas for girls with special needs. I love planning parties and enjoy seeing the kids having a great time so I hope some of our previous parties may give you some ideas for your next one.
When choosing a party the most important element is a theme that is right for your child and then finding a way to adapt it to suit his or her special needs. Children often have a firm idea of what they would like but if your child does not express a particular desire take a look at their interests and see if you can work with those.
It can be difficult to know who to invite if your child is non-verbal and cannot tell you who they would like at their party. Hopefully you will have some idea of who your child likes at school but this isn’t always the case if children go to and from school by bus. If you are unsure check with your child’s teacher or teacher’s aide for guidance.
When writing the invitation ensure you make it clear if you have an expectation that parents should stay to assist their child. It is also good if parents can reply with any dietary or other considerations their child may need.
We have had a few bowling parties over the years for both our kids. These are great because they cover a wide range of abilities. As long as a child can push a ball off a ramp, even gently, they can play. Bowling Alleys usually have a food outlet attached and can cater for the event. If you need parents to stay but their child is relatively self sufficient the parents can stay in the cafe area to be on hand if needed. Not having a parent by their side the whole time (if possible) will give the kids a feeling of independence.
Choose a centre that is spacious, particularly if the majority of children will be using wheelchairs.
Check the bowling alley has ramps available both for access to the bowling area and for bowling.
Ensure there is a disabled bathroom onsite.
If you are unfamiliar with the centre, visit before booking the party.
Explain to staff your needs and ensure they know the number of children using wheelchairs.
Consider booking more than one lane depending on the number of children. It can be a slow game with the logistics of moving wheelchairs back and forwards to bowl and more than one lane will speed up the game.
We had the farm come to our house for one of AJ’s parties. This is a great party for kids with special needs if they are animal lovers . All the animals were hand reared so very gentle and happy to sit on children’s laps. The farm we booked came with piglets, rabbits, an alpaca, donkey and more. The kids loved holding the animals, taking them for a walk and feeding them. The kids were given brushes to groom the animals and bottle fed some of them. It really did provide a couple of hours of entertainment. For anyone in Sydney I cannot recommend this farm party enough. You can read more about there parties here.
I had some animal related craft in case the kids started to get restless. I had farm animal cut outs (available from dollar and craft stores) and supplied feathers, cotton wool, eyes and other decorations for them to use. Some made them for the birthday girl and others took their art work home.
For younger children you could include a craft activity making farm animal “stained glass” pictures using contact paper and cellophane. Cellophane can be difficult to work with if a child has poor hand function. Blue tac on the end of a paint brush can assist with picking up the cellophane to place on the contact. It works surprisingly well.
To make the stained glass pictures you need to trace an animal shape on the paper side of the contact. Remove the paper from the contact to cut out the shape. Once the shape is cut out place it back on the contact and it is ready for decorating with cellophane.
Another idea is painting, I hear some of you cringe at the idea of this given it can be messy. The great thing about this is it can be done on a table top or wheelchair tray making it accessible to all. I bought these plastic cut outs from an educational store. Painting the shape could be done with a piece of foam if it is too difficult for a child to use a paint brush. These cut outs come in a variety of themes.
Go karting isn’t cheap but we took a small group of boys and their dads go karting for a party one year. We pre-purchased several laps in tandem karts (Dad and child sit side by side in the one Kart) and combined it with a picnic afterwards. The dads and boys had a great time.
Choose a karting centre with tandem karts. This allows for varying abilities. Kids that are capable of driving can do so and still have an adult with them to supervise. Those that cannot drive still have the enjoyment of doing the laps with their parent driving.
Everyone is required to wear a hair net and helmet. You do need to be sure children will tolerate this and therefore it is good to add this information to an invitation.
Most kart tracks have rules regarding all participants wearing enclosed shoes and long pants. Check any requirements and add these to the invitations.
Ensure the kart track is on ground level if it is an indoor centre (we were caught out with a kart track in the city being upstairs. Who knew?)
When booking let the kart centre know you are bringing a group of children with disabilities to ensure there are no restrictions regarding participants. I would speak to a manager in these circumstances just to make sure there are no misunderstandings on either end.
CAMPING SLEEP-OVER PARTY
Given that BJ has broken sleep most of the time, a sleep-over isn’t something we have ever considered hosting but he was invited to a camp out party at a friend’s house. They had a blast. Everyone took tents and put them up in the backyard. Each of the kids were helped to make damper and individual pizzas. It was a really unique party and lovely for them to experience a sleep-over even if it was with Dads in tow. There was the option of heading inside if anyone didn’t sleep or was uncomfortable and they could still participate in all the fun of roasting marshmallows etc.
An entertainer at home can take all the pressure off parents if they are good at their job. We have been to many parties with Sparkles (pictured above) and had him at a school function where he had the children who had varying abilities and all the adults totally entertained. Sparkles arrives looking like a regular guy and transforms in front of the children while performing magic tricks in between. This is brilliant for any children who have a fear of clowns because his transformation is slow and done right in front of their eyes. We have also seen Sparkles perform as a magician at a 16th birthday party and once again he kept the kids, teens and adults entranced. For teens and even adults a party with a magician can be very popular.
One of our fabulous supporter workers has a children’s entertainment business called Little Believers Children’s Entertainment. She is Sydney based and has extensive experience in working with people with disabilities so can tailor a party to your child’s ability level.
When booking any form of entertainment for a birthday party for children with special needs try to get recommendation from other parents.
If you can’t get a recommendation try to find an entertainer who has done work at children’s hospitals or worked with children with a disability. It is vitally important for the entertainer to be able to relate and be comfortable with children with varying disabilities if entertaining at your party.
Give the entertainer some background on the birthday person and their level of ability to participate and their likes and dislikes. Also give them an idea of the rest of their audience. You will be able to tell a lot about your entertainer and their suitability by the questions they ask and how they react to the information you share.
For families in Sydney i cannot recommend Sparkles highly enough. He can be contacted here He is incredibly busy so if you want him book well in advance particularly near the end of the year as he does many Christmas parties.
AJ had a Hollywood party for her tenth birthday. It was a great success. We were fortunate to be able to borrow some props from her school (the Hollywood sign for example) which helped with decorating. As long as your home is accessible this could be adapted for kids using wheelchairs. We had a red carpet (red plastic table cloths) from the front gate to the front door. We roped it off with gold chain (gold Christmas beading decoration). We had two teenage girls doing the girl’s hair in the “hair salon”. The girls enjoyed having braids and flowers in their hair. We then had a “nail salon” where they could have their nails painted or nail stickers applied.
When the girls weren’t having their hair or nails done they could decorate a star. These were craft wood stars I bought at a craft store. I sprayed them with gold paint a week before the party allowing them plenty of time to dry. Each girl received a star and I supplied sticker letters for them to spell out their names and jewels for bedazzling. I then used a hot glue gun to apply it all once they had designed it. They were dry by the time the party finished and a lovely keepsake.
After the girls had been at the party for an hour and everyone had warmed up they had the opportunity to head out the front yard and walk the red carpet while being “filmed” and interviewed. There is no reason why guests couldn’t wheel down the red carpet. The interviewing would of course depend on the kids attending being verbal or having some form of communication. The girls loved walking the red carpet in pairs and this activity took longer than expected as they kept going out and heading back in again. Once they were in the spotlight they were not keen to give it up.
Try visiting your local movie theater to ask them for old movie posters. We put these on the walls down our hallway.
We put a photo of each girl on a Hollywood star which we printed out on A3 paper and had these line the red carpet down the hallway.
A red flat bed sheet was cut to make the red carpet down the hallway. This was cheaper than red material off the roll.
As parents drop off at the party check they are happy for their child to have their hair and nails done ( I bought enough combs so there was one per child which was thrown away after use to ensure there was no potential issue with head lice)
The girls loved that as parents we got involved wearing sparkly hats, a boa for me and Hubby had top hat and silly tie. Hubby was the paparazzi on the red carpet and our lovely niece was the reporter.
We asked girls to come dressed with a touch of Hollywood. There was a mixture of large glasses, boas, sparkly dresses etc. I found a ladies top in a second hand shop for the birthday girl which she wore as a dress. It was a really sparkly number and she felt like a Hollywood star for the day. If guests have wheelchairs they could decorate those with a bit of bling if they preferred not to wear glasses and boas.
ADDITIONAL PARTY TIPS
Lolly bags – many children with special needs can’t or don’t eat lollies (candy). You can still put a small amount of this in the party bag but if you don’t think they will eat them add a small bottle of bubbles or some other token gift.
A couple of helium balloons also make a good replacement for a lolly bags.
An electric or battery operated bubble machine can add atmosphere and fun to a party. My son cannot blow bubbles but he loves popping them as they fly by him from a bubble machine.
Don’t forget to include old favourites like pass the parcel
Boccia and toy ten pin bowling (blow up or plastic ten pins) can be good games to play at a party. If children can’t throw buy a piece of plastic plumbing pipe to create a ramp. Cut it in half and smooth off the edge by adding duct tape to ensure it is safe for play.
For teens and adults check out our party tips from BJ’s 21st party here.
If you are looking for additional party games or activities that are accessible head to the blog I have written on stay at home activities.
Parties are a lot of work but as I’ve looked back on the photos to include in this blog I realise what precious memories they make for everyone involved. All my obsessing over details are worth it on the day.
Most importantly turn up the music and have fun.
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