5 ways to make summer parties fun for kids with autism

  • A 15-minute break with noise-blocking ear phones can help your child relax and get ready to return to the party.

    A 15-minute break with noise-blocking ear phones can help your child relax and get ready to return to the party. Getty Images

  • Quiet outdoor activities like playing with bubbles appeal to children with autism, as opposed to loud games like tag.

    Quiet outdoor activities like playing with bubbles appeal to children with autism, as opposed to loud games like tag. Getty Images

By Colleen McChristie
Autism Home Support Services
Posted8/4/2019 7:30 AM

Summer isn't complete without pool parties, family reunions, picnics and barbecues.

These events are exciting for most children, but kids with autism can get overloaded with lots of people, music, games and unfamiliar places. They may scream, rock, cry, or even run away.


It often seems easier not to go to parties. That's not good, because summer events are fun for the entire family. They also give children with autism and other sensory disorders a chance to work on social skills and get better at new experiences.

Try these five tips to make summer events easier and more fun for kids with autism:

1. Minimize surprises. Like most of us, kids with autism handle new situations better if they know what to expect. Start talking about summer parties a few days in advance. If the family is going to a barbecue, looking at online pictures and videos can reduce anxiety by helping your child get familiar with the idea ahead of time.

Talk about who you'll see, games the kids might play, and the schedule.

For example, "We're going to have a great time at Uncle Bob's barbecue. We'll say hi to everyone and then you'll play with cousin Jake. We'll have dinner and toast marshmallows, then we'll say good night and go home."

2. Organize fun games. Loud, active games like tag can be too much for kids with autism, but that doesn't mean your child has to be sidelined.

Many children with sensory disorders prefer playing quieter games with one or two kids instead of a large group. Bring bubbles, coloring books, action figures or other games your child and others will enjoy.

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Children with autism are often especially entertained by a specific toy, such as Legos or fidget spinners. Bring it along so there's always something to keep your child happy and engaged.

3. Eliminate food fights and the hangries. Many kids with autism are picky eaters, or have special diets or allergies. Find out what's being served at the party and don't hesitate to bring food your child can eat and enjoy.

Other kids will be eating candy or treats at the party, so pack a few special treats.

Give your hosts a heads up so they don't make a fuss about what your child does or doesn't eat.

If your daughter won't eat in unfamiliar places or with new people, feed her before the party to avoid the hangries.

4. Get away from the crowd. Retreating to a quiet, cool place can make all the difference between fun and a meltdown.


As soon as you get to a picnic or party, find a spot inside the house or away from the action where you can take your child if you see that he's getting anxious.

A 15-minute break with a fan, noise-blocking ear phones, or a favorite stuffed animal can help your son relax and get ready to return to the party.

5. Build up slowly and leave on a happy note. Exposing kids to summer events gradually can be a good way to help them learn to enjoy parties. Staying slightly longer at each event will help your child get used to the experience.

If you notice that your child is getting uncomfortable, leave before anxiety turns into a meltdown. Ending events on a happy note will make your child more interested in going to future parties and help the whole family have a good time.

Ultimately, being realistic and positive are the keys to success. Be realistic: You know what your child can handle, so it makes sense to avoid events such as fireworks or street fairs that are too demanding for your child's age and abilities.

Be positive: Most kids, including those with autism, react to their parents' moods. The more you have fun and stay calm throughout any commotion, the more likely your child will be relaxed and have fun.

Learning social skills and making friends are top priorities for parents whose children have autism. Staying home may seem easier, but the family misses a fun outing and kids with autism miss opportunities to work on social skills and have a good time.

So take the whole family to pool parties, barbecues and picnics. Every small success -- from saying hi to a few people to playing with kids or eating a meal -- builds a foundation for future summer fun.

• Colleen McChristie is a board-certified behavior analyst with Northbrook's Autism Home Support Services. She can be reached at cmcchristie@autismhomesupport.com or (844) 247-7222.

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