National Autism Awareness Month (Conclusion)

April 26, 2018

The Counseling Corner

By Rev. Judith T. Lester, B.Min. M.Th

This month, this column has placed the spotlight on autism to raise awareness. There is nothing more frustrating to a parent than when they get ‘the evil eye’ when their child has an emotional meltdown or outburst in public. It is often not due to bad parenting, but it may be their child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As mentioned in the first article in this series, ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is a development disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less. This series was inspired by a co-worker’s grandson recently diagnosed with autism. This series has been dedicated to my little friend.

In this final article, this writer would like to offer 8 Tips for a Tears-Free Birthday Party when you have a child with autism. The tips are identified by Craig Kendall, author of Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. Asperger’s Syndrome is one of the several subtypes of autism which are folded into the single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Mr. Kendall notes that children with autism are often uncomfortable with noise, chaos and the surprise aspects of a party. If you are planning a birthday party for your special needs child, here are a few tips:

1. Don’t invite everyone in your child’s class. Consider the noise level and only invite a minimum number (5 or 6) of children.

2. Consider the location. Aim for a quiet and familiar location. Your home is the best option. If you believe your child needs extra encouragement, then select a place such as the museum, arts studio, or even a park.

3. Consider an ‘autism only’ birthday party. Invite only kids with special needs. Your child is more likely to feel included and you don’t have to worry about what other parents are thinking when a special needs child has a meltdown, because they’ve all been there.

4. Build a party around a theme your child likes. A theme-based party may attract your child and keep their attention longer.

5. Consider another option for presents. Children with autism can get very overwhelmed with opening presents. They might get hyperactive or shut down completely. Or the attention and over-stimulation may cause a meltdown. Instead, consider opening the presents at home; or you might want to ask for donations to charitable organizations.

6. The happy birthday song. For some kids singing the happy birthday song can be overwhelming. For some, it is the noise that causes the meltdown; for others, it is the unexpectedness. Either prepare your child for what is going to happen at the party or eliminate the song altogether.

7. Visual schedules. Think about what will happen, make a list and share the list with your child and go over it many times. Visual schedules can be very helpful when working with autism in children. You may even want to consider making a book with pictures and words to represent each activity to eliminate the surprise factor.

8. Be aware of sensory issues. Most kids with autism have sensory issues. Be aware of the amount of noise, smells, touching and visual chaos in your party and adjust it according to your child’s needs.

Keep in mind that autism- friendly birthday parties don’t have to follow any rules. You are in charge! Design the party according to your child’s needs. After all, as long as your child is comfortable and enjoys it, that really is all that matters. By the way, my co-worker’s grandson, to whom this series is dedicated, celebrated his third birthday last month. Happy Birthday to my little friend!

The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in this article, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your medical doctor or health care provider. You are encouraged to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have concerning blood donation and your eligibility. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.