Sensory-Friendly Birthday Parties

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

A sensory-friendly birthday party is one that is designed to accommodate individuals who may be oversensitive to certain stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights or strong smells. These parties can be an excellent option for children with autism or other sensory processing disorders, as well as for those who simply prefer a more low-key celebration.

Plan the Environment

There are a few key things to consider when planning a sensory-friendly birthday party. First, focus on creating a calm and comfortable environment. This may involve dimming the lights, using soft, calming colors in decorations, using softer or more natural lighting, and minimizing loud noises or music. It may also be helpful to have a quiet space available for guests to go to if they become overwhelmed. You may even choose to reduce the number of people present at the party, as large crowds and loud noises can inundate individuals with sensory sensitivities.

Party Activities

Another important aspect of a sensory- friendly birthday party is the need for clear communication and structure. This may involve providing a schedule of events or activities in advance, as well as communicating any expectations or rules clearly to party guests. It’s important to keep things simple and low stress.

Avoid activities that may be too stimulating or overwhelming. Instead, focus on more calming or sensory-rich experiences. For example, a party may include activities such as sand or water play, soft play equipment, quiet games,
or sensory-rich arts and crafts projects. You could also consider hiring a sensory- friendly entertainer, such as a therapist or an artist, to lead activities tailored to your guests’ needs. These activities can help regulate the sensory system and provide a sense of calming relaxation.

Food and Drinks

Don’t forget to plan for food and drinks as part of a sensory-friendly party. Many individuals with sensory processing disorders have dietary restrictions or preferences, so it’s important to consider these when planning the menu. For example, you

may want to offer a range of allergy- friendly options, such as gluten- free or dairy- free alternatives. It may also be helpful to provide a variety of textures and flavors to appeal to different tastes.

Be Flexible

One of the most important things to remember when planning a sensory- friendly birthday party is to be flexible and open to adjustments. It’s okay if things don’t go exactly as planned—it’s important to be willing to make changes as needed to create a safe and enjoyable experience for all guests. Creating a low-sensory environment and offering a variety of sensory activities and accommodations can help create a celebration that is inclusive, welcoming, and enjoyable for everyone.