Birthday parties are all fun and games, right? Not when a child is triggered by loud, crowded events and new social situations. Get tips on how to help your child with autism have fun at a big birthday bash.

Your child with autism may struggle with loud noises, crowds and unfamiliar situations. With these kinds of challenges, is it possible to have fun at birthday parties for kids? We think so. Find out how to help your child with autism avoid overstimulation and enjoy parties.

Recognize that parties can be difficult

It's important for parents to recognize that birthday parties can be overstimulating on a sensory level as well as challenging on a social level. Speech-language pathologist Julie R. Liberman works with children with autism. "Besides the fact that birthday parties are already overstimulating by size, noise, absence of routine, unfamiliar environment/people, the list goes on... what about the things we, with developed social skills, just know innately?" says Liberman, who swears by The Hidden Curriculum by Brenda Smith Myles as a resource for learning how to teach social skills (Amazon, $15). If you begin with a foundation of recognizing that a party will challenge your child, you'll have a better time helping your child navigate challenges.

Explicitly and repeatedly review expected behaviors

Remember that your child may not have a concept of what you'd consider basic party etiquette.

When you're helping a child with autism head into a new social situation, it helps to explain every last detail and how your child is expected to behave. Remind your child that the birthday girl or boy is in charge of the party. Liberman advises that regardless of your child's age, remind her that she cannot blow the candles out or open presents. Remember that your child may not have a concept of what you'd consider basic party etiquette. For example, she'll need to be explicitly told to be gracious whether she likes activities, food or party favors or not. It may also help to get the party schedule from the host and go over the schedule of events with your child.

Give your child permission to take a break from the party

Get with the parents of the birthday child ahead of time and let them know that you and your child may need to step away from the party intermittently to take breaks. "If you think your child will be overstimulated, you might go outside for a few minutes and then return to the party," says Liberman. "Let [the] host know the plan before it happens and [before] they are looking for you." Come up with a signal or code word if your child struggles to communicate when he feels overwhelmed or needs to take a break. Bring your child's favorite soothing tools, such as a fidget toy and headphones, for calming down on the go.

What to keep in mind when you're the party host

Open spaces like parks may be better than loud rooms.

Mom Melanie Cooper has experienced meltdowns in person and has advice for parents hosting parties for kids with special needs. "Consider the size and sound of [the] room. Try to avoid loud music playing in the background while trying to compete with the noisy bounce house that is indoors," says Cooper. Open spaces like parks may be better than loud rooms. If you're throwing a party for kids with special needs, open lines of communication with the guests and their parents ahead of time and be open to making accommodations to help kids have fun.

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