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What are special birthdays?
I know, I know- all birthdays are special. But some are even more special. If it takes a village to raise a typical child in our complicated world, it takes a mid-to-large-sized city to raise many special kids.
After preschool, we moved beyond the model of “invite the whole class (of 15).” I searched for a way to redefine “birthday party” for my active, non-verbal autistic son.
Since his birthday is in February, I was inspired by a catered meal for a large group at a local New Orleans-centric restaurant. I enjoyed the meal and decided to order a similar spread for the whole team. It may be HIS preference to NOT have any disruption to his everyday life. However, it didn’t feel right to stop marking the passing of each year.
Thank the team
Since his team is who we have to thank, that is who we invite:
- Classroom teachers and aides
- SLP, OT and ABA team (we are fortunate enough to have a team that is allowed to attend, check with your providers if they have restrictions against this)
- His entire SDC class (usually around 6 kids, mostly autistic) – who often are not invited to special birthdays – or any other kind of birthdays
- The kids who are genuinely excited when he walks into his mainstream class
- Our family friends who have not shied away from us as our ever-growing neurodiverse kid has evolved
Flexible, fun theme
Since he has a February birthday, I settled on Mardi Gras as a festive, timeless theme for his party – and five years later, we are still going strong. Plenty of beads, streamers and shiny, sparkly decorations for him to love. But there are plenty of other options that lend themselves to multi-age festivities: pirates/princesses, sports, music, and of course, Disney, for those that are so inclined.
We lean toward cooperative activities: a group scavenger hunt or rotating “sports stations.” We have done a string-pull pinata (my guy loves strings in all shapes and sizes!) We get out things like the stomp rocket or giga ball. We dust off the outdoor trampoline and swing (weather permitting). I usually find a craft – decorating Mardi Gras masks, or craft bags for the scavenger hunt – for kids who aren’t as active as he is. And of course, it’s his birthday, so he can opt-out of any or all of this if he likes!
Special birthdays can definitely have special food. This can be a chance to showcase your child’s favorite foods (in our house, that means a buffet of chips). We typically cater a core meal of New Orleans foods. We also include kid-friendly options like fried chicken tenders and mac and cheese. I also include other (Mardi Gras-themed!) favorites like celery, yellow peppers and blackberries or blueberries.
We do lunch. We are trying to hit the sweet spot of a good mood, as well as knowing our guy is often happiest when eating. Lunch is also a nice activity for the larger group which means less of a need for other planned activities.
“No gifts please”
Autism is expensive, but it is also hard to shop for. For our special birthdays, we request no gifts. We do ask our guests to consider a donation instead – to a non-profit near and dear to our family’s heart – as well as that of our local special needs community.
So, what are you waiting for? Laissez les bons temps roulez! It’s time to plan your special birthdays.
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