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By Gina Brady, Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager and Pam Dewey • sensory friendly party, sensory friendly invitations, visual schedule, sensory friendly party for kids, creating a sensory friendly party, making a birthday party more inclusive, sensory accommodations, sensory tools, sensory friendly, sensory accommodations, inclusivity, sensory friendly environment, sensory friendly events, inclusion, sensory tools for autism, sensory tools for adults, sensory sensitivity, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • January 04, 2024

Parties are often a celebration of a special occasion and a chance to gather with friends and loved ones. But parties are also filled with unknowns. For people with sensory processing difficulties, unknowns can be debilitating. Unknowns can create such strong anxiety for people with sensory processing difficulties that they sometimes choose not to participate in activities or experiences.

People with sensory processing difficulties can experience extreme discomfort from loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, crowds and more. They may then have sensory overload or cope by emotionally withdrawing. Sensory challenges are prevalent in people with autism and can also affect those with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), trauma and other conditions.

Everyday outings can be overwhelming, so imagine the minefield a party can potentially present. For example, a party at a bowling alley may seem low-key and fun. However, for a person with sensory difficulties, there’s the loud noise from the bowling balls, the strong smells of food and the potential of flashing lights. They also might not like how the rented shoes feel on their feet.

Some venues offer sensory accommodations like quiet spaces or noise-reducing headphones. But, if the event feels too unfamiliar or overwhelming, the individual might not feel empowered to attend.

However, there is one easy way you can make your party more sensory-friendly, whether you’re hosting a child’s 5th birthday party or a Super Bowl party.

A visual narrative gives a behind-the-scene peek

A visual narrative gives a behind-the-scenes peek of a new space or experience, while walking you through a timeline of when things will happen.

“Imagine going to the grocery store with someone telling you, ‘First, we will get the bread. Next, the eggs. Then, the milk.’ You might start thinking to yourself, ‘When is this ever going to end?’” says Gina Brady, Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Program Manager. “If you had a grocery list, you would see exactly how many items you would be buying, so you would know how many are left and when you will be done. A visual schedule provides the same kind of information for a variety of other experiences.”

The schedule helps decrease the anxiety around unfamiliar or potentially overwhelming events. By showing images of the new experience, individuals can familiarize themselves before and feel prepared for any difficult moments.

Tweak your invitation by including know-before-you-go info

Many party invitations include a schedule of events and key information like the address, what to bring, etc. You can make your party more inclusive by turning that information into a visual schedule with know-before-you-go info. This turns your timeline of events into an accessibility tool to help partygoers know what to expect.

Your invitation should include a timeline with a breakdown of the party activities along with images from the party venue. Using an actual photo of the venue with each part of the timeline is preferred. However, an icon or illustration will work if you don’t have a photo. Include a simple caption with the photo, and then describe the photo in a few sentences. This will make the visual schedule accessible to a wide range of learners.

Include logistics and accessibility information

You’ll also want to include logistical information like parking, entrances/exits, restrooms and food options. Highlight the parts of an experience that might be the most challenging and provide insight into what strategies people can use, if they start to feel overwhelmed.

If the venue offers accessibility accommodations, include these so partygoers know what will be available onsite to help them. Accessibility accommodations can include quiet spaces or sensory tools and equipment.

For example, if your party starts at 2 p.m., at a local trampoline park, here’s an example of what you might include on your inclusive invitation.

2-2:15 p.m.

Arrive at the trampoline park. Walk inside and check in at the front desk. Your parent will have to sign some paperwork, and then you can join the rest of the party. You can leave your gift with your friend’s parents or caregivers. (Picture of the front door, front desk, parents or caregivers)

2:15-3 p.m.

It will probably be loud and bright at the trampoline park. You can wear noise-cancelling headphones or sunglasses, if the noise or lights bother me.

Jump on the trampolines with your friends!

If, you feel tired or need a break, your friend’s parents or caregivers will be sitting at the table. You can go sit quietly with them. If you need to use the restroom, it is located in the back left corner. (Picture of the trampolines, a table on the side, and picture of where the bathroom is)

3 p.m.

It’s time for cake and pizza! We will have chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and 3 kinds of pizza, including a gluten-free pizza. We will also have Sprite and water to drink. You can also bring your own drink or a snack to eat. (Picture of a cake, pizza, and bottled water)

3:30-3:45 p.m.

Presents! It’s time for the birthday boy to open his presents! He may be very excited, so there could be some loud celebrating!

4:00 p.m.

The party is over, and it’s time to say goodbye! Your parents will arrive to pick you up. (Picture of the front desk and people waving goodbye)

 

You can send your invitation as an email attachment or print paper copies to mail out. You may also consider printing a few extras to have available at the party, particularly if you’re hosting a party for children.

Making your party more sensory-friendly doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. By simply including more information (and pictures) in your invitation, you can help ensure everyone has a good time.