Formerly House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation

6 tips for hosting an inclusive kids party

Here are our easy top tips to make sure everyone's welcome at your next kid's party – including kids with a disability.

Hosting a kid’s party is no mean feat: endless baking, planning fun activities, the inevitable tantrums. But at least it’s easy to make sure everyone (including kids with disabilities) feels welcome on the day!

1. Drop mum or dad a line

If you’re concerned about ‘making a big deal’ about your guest’s disability, don’t be. A simple phone call to their parents not only shows you care, but it allows you to find out how to make the party a fantastic day for their child. Rebecca, who is mother to two boys with autism aged 7 and 10 says, “I would definitely appreciate that pre-planning by the host parents as they wouldn’t be able to foresee all the obstacles that may arise.”

Not sure if any of your child’s friends have a disability or specific needs? An easy way to make sure everyone feels welcome is to mention it in the invitation’s RSVP; something along the lines of: “We want everyone to have fun, so please let us know if your child has any specific needs we need to be mindful of.”

2. Encourage the kids to follow your lead

Even small children can grasp the idea of being kind and welcoming to others – so before the event, remind your own children how important it is to be inclusive.

A light-hearted talk to the entire group at the start of the party can also be a great opportunity to set a positive tone for day. Chances are there will be things you need to tell the group (all about the fun activities you have planned), so you can include a note about everyone joining in and having fun at the same time!

3. Make parents welcome

Some kids with disabilities may feel more comfortable if their mum or dad attends the party, and many parents may also feel more comfortable coming along.

Especially for kids with anxiety, having a parent there can be reassuring – plus, parents will be attuned to ‘red flags’ that their child is becoming distressed.

Rebecca says, “As neither of my boys are really able to verbalise their needs or emotions, I like to attend parties with them. They both feel more comfortable if I’m around as I’m their translator when they’re struggling.”

That said, plenty of parents will be happy not to attend. Either way, that initial phone call is a good time to make parents welcome, and see what they think is best.

Group of kids at a birthday party blowing out candles

4. Play it safe with food

These days, food allergies and sensitivities are par for the course, which just means that options are needed. Often kids with disabilities will have specific dietary requirements – for example, many kids with autism follow a diary-free/gluten-free diet.

To get an idea of what food you’ll need to whip up, ask guests to let you know about any special diet requirements when they RSVP.

Luckily there are plenty of gluten, nut, and dairy free recipes and ready-made snacks available (if in doubt, Google for ideas). You don’t need to go overboard, just try to make sure there’s something for everyone.

5. Watch out for sensory overload

With so much going on at a party (bright lights! Loud noises! Lots of people!), it’s easy for kids to become overwhelmed.

For those with a disability like autism or a sensory processing disorder, things can become particularly overwhelming – so when you’re holding a party, be mindful of the level of potential chaos.

“Any social setting has sensory overload,” says Rebecca. “But loud music or sounds of any type are definitely something to avoid. But if it’s unavoidable, it’s great to pre-plan, ie providing noise-cancelling earphones.”

Others ways to avoid sensory overload is to replace traditional balloons (which can pop loudly) with foil balloons, and steer away from strong smells – pop that scented guest soap or potpourri in the cupboard for the day.

If someone is overwhelmed and wants to sit something out, that’s okay! Setting up a dedicated ‘quiet space’ in the party can be a great idea. This way, kids who would rather do something low key (or need a break) can still have a good time. Consider setting this area up with soft lighting, cosy cushions and some books or Lego.

6. Think ahead about access

If you’re having the party at home, ask your guests’ parents about any potential access issues – for example, if they need a ramp for a wheelchair (which they may even be able bring along), or any extra to help carry any assistive device.

If it’s being held outdoors, be mindful of surfaces like rocks and gravel that may be hard to navigate. And if you’ve opted for a public place like a restaurant or bowling alley, be sure to check ahead that they’re accessible – the good news is, most public spaces will be set up to cater for disabilities.

Have fun!

Most of all though, have fun throwing that party! Inclusion shouldn’t be stressful – it just takes a little bit of preplanning and thought.