One of the most popular posts on this website is Birthday Party Ideas for Kids with Special Needs. I think it’s because people are unsure what to buy, how to ensure everyone is included and how to cater to guests with varying special needs. I will admit, I couldn’t quite get my head around organising a 21st party for BJ at first. AJ was really the one to get it happening. She started writing guest lists, asking me questions and slowly we found solutions to the obstacles.
BJ’s 21st birthday party brought together, family, friends and many people who have been important in our lives in different ways. It was wonderful to see people from so many areas of his life come together in one room. Parties are tricky when lots of the guests don’t know each other so I was keen to try and bring everyone together with a theme. Coming up with a theme that reflected BJ’s lively personality but was age appropriate took some thinking. We all agreed on a carnival theme and I think it was a hit judging by the atmosphere on the day.
August can be a tricky month weather-wise. It’s either gorgeous and sunny or wet and windy so I decided not to have an outdoor party. With 70 people invited we decided to hire a hall. We found one with good wheelchair access, disabled toilet and enough room for 70 odd and several wheelchairs users in the group.
Being a school hall there was a canteen for food preparation, an undercover area in case of rain and tables and chairs.
It was inexpensive to hire and definitely worthwhile.
If you think of a side-show alley, it’s usually popular with young and old. AJ sourced carnival style games to hire and we went with a red, white, blue colour theme and touches of the carnival to decorate. It was an easy theme and lots of fun.
I hoped having side-show style games would entertain the kids and bring out the kid at heart in the adults. It did! I was really thrilled to see adults, teens and the younger kids giving the games a go.
We had miniature golf, hoopla, knock-em down and table top games.
We needed games which could be accessed by guests using a wheelchair. Hubby bought a piece of plumbing pipe for $12 (Masters was far cheaper than Bunnings) which he cut in half. He then drilled a hole in it which allowed it to be screwed to a camera tripod making a ramp for a couple of the games for children who couldn’t throw. The advantage of the tripod is that it’s height adjustable.
Aside from the games, the photo booth we set up proved a winner. It was certainly entertaining watching others dress up and have a photo taken and most people seemed to get into the swing of it.
We hung red and white striped wrapping paper as a back drop and had a box of dress ups and props to choose from. We ‘encouraged’ people to give it a go. While some were reluctant starters, it was amazing to see them get into the spirit of it when donning a tutu or fun hat. A family friend took the photos so Hubby and I were free to spend time with all our guests.
BJ loves his family and friends and his photos of them so I had an idea for a Christmas gift. I asked everyone to have a photo taken at the photo booth and then leave a message on card paper which will be paired with the photos in a special album for BJ at Christmas. Nothing like combining a birthday celebration with ticking a gift off the Christmas list!
We had about 10 little kids at the party so we had carnival themed take home lolly (candy) boxes for them. AJ and I made some red and blue play doh which we combined with a hat, googly eyes and some pipe-cleaners in a bag (it was supposed to look like a clown but AJ informed me it didn’t!). I was planning on giving them as a take home gift but my cousin said they looked so pretty they should go out on the tables. This ended up being a winner of an idea as some of the kids were entertained sitting playing with it at the tables.
AJ went through thousands of photos choosing a variety to print out and mount on cardboard. We spread them around the hall and tried to have a photo of BJ with everyone invited represented on the posters. People seemed to really enjoy the trip down memory lane and I’ll put all the photos in an album for BJ to enjoy again and again.
I outsourced the food except for chips and a few bits and pieces. A friend of the family catered and honestly, for what it cost, I’d have been hard pressed to do it all myself and it certainly would have been much more stressful. On the day I felt free to socialise and ensure BJ was having a good time.
We knew when we were planning a party that people would most likely ask what they could buy as a gift. I was struggling to come up with ideas myself so we decided to suggest cash or a Flight Centre gift card. The idea behind this was that we could put the money or vouchers toward an experience for BJ. He received a great mixture and loved everything.
He definitely loved having some presents to open and we were amazed at how clever people were with their choices. Their choices showed that they really knew and understood BJ’s likes and passions. He got some great Batman and Superman shirts, an air hockey table, a football, some games, a backpack and an awesome Socceroos shirt with his name and the number 21 on it. He loves his new Minion doona bed set and we can’t wait to book him in for his next adventure with the cash and travel gift cards. He received several novelty musical cards and these were a hit too.
One of the most touching gifts was for Hubby and myself. One of BJ’s friend’s families (say that 3 times quickly!) gave us a beautiful bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne with a card of congratulations. The card read, “Congratulations on 21 years of hard but rewarding parenting. You have created a wonderful young man.” It meant the world. One of the sweetest gifts ever.
Halls have lots of rules and regulations. It’s worth making general enquiries. Some organisations don’t allow 18th & 21st parties, some don’t allow alcohol and others don’t have good access. We only had an hour and a half to transform the hall and even with several helpers it was a push.
We organised a few family members ahead of time to help out with BJ. A few helped him with games and just made sure he had a good time.
It was great having someone roving taking photos so Hubby and I could spend time with people at the party.
We didn’t invite people just because we should. We invited people who have been actively involved in BJ’s life and those that he currently sees. We knew that the people in the room really wanted to be there and genuinely care for him.
We also knew BJ would be super excited (read, could spontaneously combust excited) so we put a bit of a tongue in cheek message on the invitation saying, “BJ is likely to find having most of his favourite people, all in one place at one time, to be more excitement than he can bear. We anticipate the birthday guy to be super hyped, noisy and excited beyond anything you’ve ever seen before. We encourage guests with hearing aids to turn them down and for everyone else to come with a sense of fun and adventure because BJ will definitely be ready to party.”
Games really brought adults and kids together. It was a talking point between people who didn’t know each other. We hired our games from Putt Along in Sydney (this is not sponsored). I thought their prices were reasonable and hiring them overnight meant there was no rush to return them the same day. BJ enjoyed having a few turns of everything at home without the distraction of a super exciting party.
I am so pleased we had a party. BJ had the time of his life and I think our whole family deserved to celebrate his birthday and the great person he is. I am sure BJ would love every birthday to be a 21st celebration. It took us all time to recover from the excitement so it may be a while between parties.
I’d love to hear any of your party tips. Share here or over on Facebook.
Christine @ Adventure, Baby! says
What a gorgeous party! Well done Julie, it looks like a smash hit for the whole family and guests. Happy 21st BJ!
Thanks Christine. We were all on a high when it went so well.
Hello Julie I’m currently giving my 23 year old autistic daughter a birthday dinner party at a restaurant it will be outdoors (thankfully) I only invited people that Amy is close to Thank you for sharing your story it helped me so much. I was a bit nervous about giving this party
Thanks so much for letting me know. It means a lot to know our information helps others. I hope your daughter had a great birthday celebration.
Looked like a fabulous party – such wonderful ideas for future parties including for non disabled – what a really lovely thing your friends did with flowers and champers for you and hubby , very much deserved.
It was a fabulous party thanks June.
We will enjoy that champers soon I’m sure.
Happy Birthday B J.! Your party looked like alot of fun. I can not believe you are 21 yrs.
My daughter just turned 21 in July. She has a rare genetic disorder called CDKL5 and cerebral palsy.
Thanks Rebecca. He had a great time. Happy Birthday to your daughter too.
Harry Johnston-Lord says
BJ’s party looks like a blast. AJ has done well prodding you along. That BJ grin says it all. I am proud of all you have achieved over the years. My love to you all.
My son is 16 so this is very handy information to have for the future. Thank you for so many practical, real and helpful ideas.
Fantastic Shari. I always hope that sharing our ideas helps others at some point.
Enjoy 16, 21 seems to come around in a flash!
What a wonderful party. I am looking for something to do for my birthday. I’m glad I read this. You’re great.
Bobbi Covert says
That is awesome. My mother had a full anoxic brain injury 3 years ago. So many changes over the past coupple of years. I’m taking some great tips from here for planning her birthday party. Thank you.
I’m so glad the information is helpful and I hope the party is a great success.
Shannon S Colclough says
I like the idea of the photo wall. Pictures speak volumes and reminds us of who and where we spent our lives with.