Birthday parties can be really overwhelming for people who experience sensory sensitivities. Half my family, myself included, find parties and large group gatherings difficult in various ways. This graphic contains information about sensory sensitivities, and what you can do to support people who experience them when they attend your party.
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Image title: How to host a sensory friendly birthday party
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There are five coloured boxes in this infographic, each with text inside it.
Blue box, top left corner.
What is ‘sensory sensitivity’?
Sensory sensitivities (medically known as “Sensory Processing Disorders”) are present in around 1 in 20 people. Sensory sensitivities are experienced by both children and adults. Sensitivities can be to sounds, smells, touch, brightness, tastes and many other things. These sensitivities can cause great discomfort and sometimes distress. People who experience sensory sensitivities are often embarrassed by them and try to hide their reactions to them.
Green box, bottom left corner.
Signs that someone is experiencing sensory sensitivity can include:
sensory seeking– touching things, licking and/or tasting things, leaning against things, spinning, bouncing, stimming, preferring to be in a loud place
sensory avoidance– refusing to touch things, reacting strongly to being touched, refusing to taste foods, covering ears or eyes, preferring to be in a quiet space,
signs of discomfort such as crying, yelling, screaming, hiding, running away, lashing out
It is important to note that sensory sensitivities are as individual as the people who experience them. If a person tells you they are uncomfortable, you should listen and either offer an alternative or ask them what support they need.
Red box, top right corner.
Sensory challenges present at birthday parties include:
large groups of people, strangers present, lots of talking, loud laughter, loud music, confined space, being bumped against, many activities on an inflexible schedule, surprises, balloons (popping!), streamers (rustling and moving), unfamiliar surroundings with lack of quiet places to retreat to, unfamiliar foods, lack of activities that provide opportunity for sensory regulation, food provided at set times, …… and more, depending on the party!
Purple box, right side, middle. In the bottom right corner of this box is a image that shows some party activities. The image has the words ‘party activities with a sensory purpose’ in it and shows some play dough, coloured juggling balls, coloured pencils, balloons, small bottles of bubble liquid, and some small plastic spinning tops.
You can help sensory sensitive people enjoy a party by:
*asking them when you are planning the party if there are any accommodations they need to attend comfortably
*reminding them as they arrive that they only need to ask if they need anything
*letting them know what the plan or schedule is for the party
*providing a quiet space to retreat to
*keeping noise levels down
*using a room with as much natural light as possible
*making food and drink available for the entire party
*offering an alternative to typical party games like ‘pass the parcel’
*providing activities with a sensory purpose, for example: play dough, stress balls/juggling balls, bubble liquid to blow bubbles, fidget toys like small spinning tops, colouring in
Orange box, bottom right corner.
Parties should be fun for everyone, and with
a few simple accommodations, they can be.