Birthday Party
Heidi Hughes

Birthday Party Tips for Children with Sensory Issues

Birthday Party
Heidi Hughes

Birthday Party Tips for Children with Sensory Issues

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Did you know why it seems there’s a birthday party every week in September?  That’s because more people have their birthdays in September than in any other month of the year. I had never given it much thought till I started working in the food industry. For some, birthdays are a source of much joy. Others dread them.  Still, others find they are a wonderful testament to making one more trip around the sun.

With Birthdays comes cake, presents and birthday parties, oh my! While these things can be overwhelming for many children, our sensitive friends can dread this time of year or have mixed feelings whether they are helping to celebrate a friend’s or relative’s birthday or having their own birthday.

We love birthdays in our home. We enjoy making it special for each family member by honoring what each of us needs and wants. I hope some tips help you and your kiddo find joy in one more trip around the sun.


Birthday Party

  1. We always ask what kind of cake and ice cream would be preferred. Then make that happen, even if it’s just for us.
  2. We make a list of appropriate gifts for relatives – since our daughter doesn’t always play with traditional toys or may need therapeutic toys many people don’t know about. Plus, many relatives live out of town, so this list helps.
  3. When presents are given or arrive, try only opening 1 per day, so it’s not so overwhelming. For most children’s birthday parties here on the east coast, it is pretty standard practice to open the gifts at home after the party. This is a great strategy, or as we have made many years’ request, “no gifts please, your company is enough.” This last option saves much trouble.
  4. Some relatives want to “see” your child’s face when they open a gift. To solve this problem, have an open and honest conversation about your child’s needs with that person beforehand, then offer to take a video and send it to them.
  5. Be okay with a small party. You may have grown up in a family that does huge birthday parties with lots of kids, cake, and noise, or you may have had home birthdays with a few friends for a play date and cake. Wherever you are on the party front, be okay with letting your sensitive kiddo have a small party with 1-3 friends – it might just be the best party they’ve ever had.


Tips for Going to a Birthday Party

  1. Your child doesn’t have to go to every party for which they receive an invite. I know you are super excited that they received an invite.  But if it is obvious the birthday kiddo has sent invites the whole class, don’t feel bad about politely declining, especially for parties at places that will be a sensory trigger for your kiddo (ex. glow in the dark mini golf, trampoline centers with very loud music, etc.). A “scheduling conflict” is much better than knowing your sensitive kiddo had an embarrassing meltdown in front of their friends/classmates.
  2. If your child is going to the party, talk to the parent hosting in advance to get a schedule for the party. This can help ease anxiety about what is going to happen and when.
  3. Double-check what food will be served, and if it isn’t appropriate for your child’s diet/ sensory needs, see if you can send food for them. When my kids have gone to birthdays, there are always a few kids who brought their own food because of allergies or religious restrictions – one child always had their own cake to eat when everyone else had cake due to extreme allergies.
  4. Have a backup plan for your kiddo if they need to leave early. This one is important for older kids who want to be social but may still are overwhelmed easily. If you are dropping off your child, talk with the host parent ahead of time about why your child may need to leave early. Or arrange and plan for your kiddo to leave early from the start so there is no awkward transition. For older children, this will allow them the freedom they need with the security of how long they need to keep it together.


Books to Ready Before Your Birthday Party

The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Birthday by Stan & Jan Bernstein

Click, Clack, Surprise! By Doreen Cronin

Little Critter and the Best Present by Mercer Mayer

Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch

I am Invited to a Party (an Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems


Allergy-Friendly Cupcakes

One of our favorite allergy-friendly cake recipes comes from sweet little bluebird.  It’s dairy and egg free and uses gluten-free flour.  Click here for the recipe.

About the Author

Heidi Hughes is a mom, nutritionist, and restauranteur living in Baltimore, Maryland. One of her two sons, whom she calls ‘the little fox’ is on the autism spectrum. Heidi is an expert on homeschooling and sensory issues, especially creating nutritious recipes without sensory triggers. She is passionate about helping other parents with neurodiverse children navigate parenting challenges!

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