Halloween partying with autismOct 31, 2023
Today is a Tuesday, which means I usually host a live Zoom meeting in the evening for the families in our homeschool program that features our special education teacher mentor.
But not today. Today is Halloween and we are hosting our annual Halloween party!
This will be our fourth annual event, and we've had the same core friend group for years, so everyone knows what to expect. Last year we had a huge bash and it was lots of fun, but a bit overwhelming for me. This year we've pared it down to just a few friends.
At our parties, about half of our guests are nonspeaking/minimally speaking autistics, friends from school and therapy. The other half are speaking siblings and other special needs friends. The moms met while waiting for school pick up and in therapy lobbies, in social media groups and through mutual friends.
We get together often, hanging out in each other's backyards while the kids swim or jump on trampolines. We're guaranteed to show for birthday parties, holiday parties and when one mom needs another shoulder to cry on but doesn't have a caregiver.
These local mom friend networks are so important, and hosting a party for friends from school, therapy, etc., is a great way to transition from engaging lobby chitchat to a real friendship.
Here's how we structure our parties:
1. My house is already pretty autism-proof, but all breakables and unsharable toys are put away. Off-access room doors are shut. With these protections in place, guests are allowed to be themselves. Lay on the floor under the table, pace a path around the interior, explore (within allowed area), that's all normal here!
2. Guests are encouraged to bring their own food and drink. I get it. My kid's smell/taste senses are currently operating on overdrive and he only drinks freaking Voss water, so truly, I get it. Food and drink will be provided, and nobody will be offended if it's rejected. If food is accepted and then slowly crumbled onto the floor all over the entire house, nobody will be offended. If food is accepted and chucked over the fence into the neighbor's yard, nobody will be offended. Both are normal here. Honestly, most of the food and drinks served will be intended for parents because the kids won't want it anyway.
3. No games or formal activities are planned. We have a lovely, fenced-in backyard with a large trampoline, an above ground pool and a garden to explore. Last year, instead of the pool we set up a full sized camping tent. There's also a fire bowl and chairs for parents, and a large hanging Huggle pod and a swinging bench seat for kids who need the right kind of sensory input.
Kids can swim (it's going to be 90 today!) or jump or stomp around the yard or rub their hands in the dirt or hide inside the pod watching videos on their iPad and occasionally peeking out at the action. Show up at the party however you can or want to show up, that's our approach.
4. The party will have hours, but guests can arrive or leave whenever they want or need to. Because c'mon, none of us show up on time and nobody can stay the entire length of of party without having a meltdown. And then there's our kids. haha
And that's it! That's how you throw an autism party. Safe environment, autism-friendly activities and the freedom to be yourself.
Tonight's party has some additional rules. We don't have any scary decorations or unexpected objects that jump out at anyone or make loud, unexpected noises. Guests can wear costumes but don't have to. And no strobe lights due to seizure risk.
We'll also go trick-or-treating as a group in my neighborhood, which has quite a few severe autism families within our square block. (An alarming number, actually, but that's another post) As a result, autism awareness is high and it's a safe, welcoming environment.
If you have a safe space, I strongly encourage you to host a holiday party like ours. Reach out to those friendly moms in our shared environment and start building support networks. We all need it.
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