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7 Ideas to Create a Sensory-Friendly Party for Kids

By Pam Dewey and Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Program Manager Gina Brady • sensory tools, sensory friendly, sensory accommodations, inclusivity, sensory friendly environment, inclusion, sensory tools for autism, sensory tools for kids with autism, sensory bin, sensory sensitivity, sensory play, sensory bin for kids, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • July 14, 2022

Summer is a great time for get-togethers. Maybe your kid has a birthday coming up, or you want to have some family and friends over while the weather is nice. But parties can be challenging for children with sensory processing difficulties.

Sensory processing differences are common in children with autism, as well as those with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other emotional or behavioral issues. These differences affect how kids react to sensory input. Some may feel overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, crowds and other sensory input. Others may need particular types of input to help their bodies regulate, like running and jumping or touching certain textures.

Even if your child doesn’t have sensory processing differences, it’s likely that one of their friends or a relative does. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, it “affect[s] approximately 5-16% of school-aged children,” so as many as 1 in 6 children has a sensory processing difference.

“Attending a party is an important social experience that all children should have. By making a few simple and thoughtful modifications, you can make this experience more inclusive to individuals with sensory needs,” says Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Program Manager Gina Brady.

Here are 7 ideas to help you host a sensory-friendly birthday party or another type of get-together.

Include a schedule of activities in your invitation

Many people with autism and other disabilities thrive on routine, so uncertainty can feel overwhelming. Providing a schedule ahead of time lets kids know what to expect, and gives them time to prepare. They can also bring any sensory tools they might need to help them regulate during particular activities.

Provide a variety of snacks

Kids with sensory sensitivities (not unlike many other kids) may be extremely picky about what they eat. Some may only eat foods of a certain color. While children who have an extremely restricted diet may bring their own food, it’s still nice to offer a variety of snacks. Some foods can help children calm their bodies down. Eating chewy or crunchy foods or drinking thick liquids — like a milkshake, smoothie or applesauce through a thin straw — can provide calming input to kids’ bodies.

Skip loud party favors

Loud noises can be particularly overwhelming for kids with sensory processing differences. If you’re providing favors or gift bags, skip the noisemakers. You should also consider nixing the balloons. The Child Mind Institute states, “Kids who are more sensitive to sensory input can be fearful of the balloon popping, which can make activities less comfortable for them.” Instead, provide some type of fidget, like Pop Its, squishies, monkey noodles, chewlery, finger squeezers or stress balls. For children with sensory issues, fidget toys may help them calm down by providing sensory input.

Create a quiet zone

Along with loud noises, crowds can be difficult for people with sensory processing difficulties. Create a quiet zone at your party for a child to go if they feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t need to be a huge space, just a corner that is away from loud noises where a child can escape and regulate.

Offer activities with a lot of physical input

Some kids with sensory issues need to keep their bodies in motion to help them regulate. Consider activities like a trampoline, bounce house or a slip-n-slide. You could also create an obstacle course with various activities to keep kids moving.

Making bubbles

Playing with bubbles provides a variety of sensory input. Using a large bubble wand or chasing after bubbles keeps children active. Catching bubbles also provides tactile sensory input. Blowing bubbles can calm children by providing soothing input. You can also put a bubble mixture in a bin and let children stick their hands, sponges and other utensils into the bubbles for more tactile input.

Have an art-making project

Many art projects provide sensory input. You can have a finger painting station, give children sidewalk chalk and provide air-dry clay for a variety of fun creations. You could even have the kids create little creatures out of egg cartons, like ladybugs or caterpillars.

Hosting a sensory-friendly party isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Many normal party activities provide calming sensory input for kids. Adding a few tweaks to your party setup will ensure children of all abilities feel welcome.