Why birthday parties aren’t always fun

Why birthday parties aren’t always fun

Birthday parties and autism can be a difficult mix. A party is a big change from a regular day and can lead to an overload of the senses. Suddenly there are all of these extra people, the noise levels are much higher, the presents, the cake, the candles, the games, the music, the socialising, it can all be too much.

Then there’s the factor of whether your child will even be invited to a birthday party? Will the other kids want them there? If you have a birthday party for your child, will anyone else come?

Jude hasn’t had a party for 4 years now and hasn’t been to one for that long either. That’s ok, being around groups of other children has never been his thing anyway. A birthday party for Jude has always resulted in a meltdown. Even at 1 or 2 years old, he spent much more time in a pram outside than at the actual parties. Tommy has been to a few, with mixed results, and he had one for his 4th birthday that went ok. Sometimes he has fun, sometimes he doesn’t, but the fact that it’s a party isn’t something he understands right now anyway.

So, when Tommy received a party invite from one of his new classmates, it was with trepidation that we decided to go.

For me, events like this make me feel like there’s a battle going on inside my head of trying to find the right balance. Am I pushing Tommy to try things he might enjoy, or am I forcing him to do something that could go horribly wrong?

Last week was the big day, and before we went I kept thinking about how different the whole birthday party event is when you’re non-verbal. 

Tommy had no idea where he was going, so there was no excitement before hand. I actually had no idea if he even wanted to go to the party. For all I knew he might not even like the boy who’s party it was (not that I think he doesn’t like him?) There was no discussion about who his friends were, about what he was looking forward to, or what he wanted to play on.

The venue was a soft play centre, again something Tommy either loves or really struggles with

When we got there Tommy seemed pretty oblivious to the rest of his class mates. There were no excited looks of recognition, no hugs or high-fives, no rushing off to play with them. He played for a while by himself, but then he found one of those retro style sweet vending machines and that became the main focus of his time. I’d try to lead him back into the play area, and 30 seconds later he’d be back hugging the machine, begging me for more sweets.

When it was time for party food he didn’t eat a thing. Instead, he made repeated attempts to pick the icing off of the birthday cake, even when it was time to blow out the candles!

It was nice to meet the other parents (as well as you can meet anyone when you’re constantly distracted by what Tommy is doing) and put faces to the names of some of the kids in his class.

The most important question though is did Tommy  have fun?

I thought about it a lot on the way home, and I’m not really sure.

He smiled at times when we were there, but he retreated into his stimming most of the time. Then, on the way home he had a mini meltdown in the car, which is pretty rare for Tommy. He began crying, slamming the window, and spitting at me over and over. I was helpless to react in the front seat, trying to concentrate on driving, whilst making sure he wasn’t hurting himself, and at the same time getting covered in spit!

The experience must have been overwhelming for him in some way for him to react like that. But, with such limited communication, it’s always difficult to know the exact reasons

I’m extremely grateful that Tommy was invited to a birthday party, as there are lots of things that we are excluded from. I’m also glad that we went and gave it a go. It just didn’t seem as fun for Tommy as I hoped it would be, or I guess as I imagined birthday parties would be for a 5-year-old 



  1. October 19, 2016 / 10:46 am

    I guess you can’t discover what your children like if they never have new experiences. I can see why you felt some anxiety about taking Tommy to the party but I’m pleased that you felt it had been a good move to go. It sounds like Tommy liked the sweets! #SpectrumSunday

    • James Hunt
      October 31, 2016 / 10:46 am

      Thanks Lynne. you’re right, if we don’t try we’ll never know. Just difficult sometimes as you don’t want to push them too far outside their comfort zone.
      And yes, Tommy loved the sweets 🙂

  2. October 25, 2016 / 1:11 am

    Parties have always been a double edged sword for us, even with two verbal kids on the spectrum. My son is scared of balloons and focuses on these to the exclusion of everything else which wipes him out for the entire party. My daughter loves parties but always gets over-stimulated and melts down when we get home (after chewing on her clothing with anxiety throughout). I love being able to give them these opportunities, on the rare occasions they happen, but it’s never easy….

    • James Hunt
      October 31, 2016 / 10:55 am

      It’s a fine balance isn’t it between opportunity and stretching them too far. If it works we’re happy, if it goes wrong we feel guilty for trying. It’s certainly never easy