Kids with autism enjoy birthday parties as much as the next kid, although they generally aren’t invited to as many of them as their typical peers. While kids birthday parties can be challenging I encourage parents to attend them with their kids on the spectrum. The social opportunities dwarf the challenges in my opinion. However, we have a few simple rules that help us have a successful party experience.

1. Set a time limit. This is the single most important thing we do for our son. The 4-5 hour birthday party is a nightmare for us. We limit our time to an hour and a half. We will push it to two hours if Raymond is doing well, but every time we have gone past that we have gotten a meltdown.

2. Build positive expectations. We talk up the party during the preceding week, making note of friends who will be there and discussing fun and appropriate interactions. This helps Raymond figure out things to do and ways to interact at the party. It also helps curb his disappointment if one of his friends isn’t going to be there.

3. Have a backup plan or activity. Sometimes there is a lull in the party or a “free play” time and Raymond gets bored. We keep a couple trains, some track, a small game, a coloring book and crayons or whatever we think Raymond might play with to keep him happy.

4. Don’t feel bad about leaving early. If your friends know your kid, they’ll understand if you have to call after you leave to say goodbye. We’ve had to do that before and its no big deal. I’d rather apologize for leaving early than apologize for aggressive behavior.

5. Forget the diet. I know a lot of parents have their kids on special diets. We do too, but we let it go for birthday parties. We feel that a small dietary challenge is easier to deal with than pointing up another way our son is different from the other kids.

6. Try not to put too much stress on the situation. I know, as parents, my wife and I used to build up every social opportunity into an audition for our sons future. That made us all crazy and our son responded to it…badly. So now we take it easy and look at it as a social opportunity but take the judgement out of it. We try to do that with everything, really. Plenty of people have told us things Raymond would never do, and he’s proven all of them wrong.

Take a few simple steps and kids birthday parties will be much more enjoyable. Good luck!