Here comes the summer! It’s time for barbecues, outdoor festivals, street parties, family get-togethers and camping out…or, if you’re the parent of an autistic child, you may be thinking it’s time for sensory blowouts, extreme behaviours and emotional outbursts. The summer is a great time for social gatherings, however, with changes to routines and full of surprises, these can be the most challenging events for autistic children and teens.
There are ways to help our youngsters manage parties and social gatherings better – and even develop some social skills along the way. So, here are some tips about how to prepare for, and manage, parties and other social gatherings:
1. Routine and predictability
Whatever age the children are, use invitations as a visual aide so that parents can run through what will happen with younger kids and teens can read through and prepare for the party.
Have a timetable of when activities or games will be played; if possible with some timings or order. It’s particularly helpful for kids and parents to know when food will be served – nothing promotes an emotional outburst like an empty belly.
If you’ve got unusual equipment, take a photo and include that as part of the invitation. Perhaps you’re doing a swimming party with an inflatable as the main focus – why not make the image of the inflatable the cover of your invitation?
A copy of the schedule of the party can be placed on the wall to remind autistic kids what to expect if they forget in the emotion and anxiety of a social gathering.
2. Sensory issues
These may affect any of the five senses, all of which may be assaulted at parties and other social gatherings. The most likely causes of sensory blowouts are surprises such as balloons popping or other kids screaming. Some kids may find groups difficult, so this may be managed by ensuring the numbers of guests is in the invitation. Others may be extremely visual, meaning that ‘tricks’ by magicians may be believed absolutely and can leave some kids disturbed and running for the exit.
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