Planning A Party? Please Consider This Before You Send An Invitation To Your Special Needs Friends + Families
By Gena Mann
When an invitation arrives addressed to my husband and me “+family”, my initial reaction is almost always dread. It’s not because we don’t want to attend your holiday party/Bar Mitzvah/Fourth of July BBQ, but because I immediately have to consider if I can bring my son with autism or if I’ll have to leave him home with a sitter. The former requires a bunch of information not usually found in an invitation (what will the food be like? how big is the space? can I bring a babysitter/para with me?) And the latter involves feelings of guilt and sadness that we can’t easily travel to most events as a family-I have 4 kids (16,15,11,4) and my oldest is severely autistic.
Leaving the house to attend events with a special needs child requires extensive preparation for some parents-packing favorite toys, snacks, noise canceling headphones and always includes the knowledge that you may have to turn around and go home if it ends up being too much for your child. My family is super helpful and understanding about what this is like for my husband and I (they’ve had years of practice!). After a terrific experience at my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the ways my sister made sure it would be as easy as possible for my family to attend.
1. Ask Questions. When inviting a friend/family member who has a child with special needs, consider what might make it easier for them. Is there is a quiet room where their child can spend some time if the main room is too overwhelming? Will there be “kid” food available? Can you lock up your pet for a couple of hours if their child is afraid of dogs? If you don’t know how to help, ask! Nobody expects you to change your entire event for their special needs child, but any parent will appreciate being asked, “Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to attend with all of your kids?” For my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, my sister specifically spoke to the manager at the venue and asked if there was a space my son could hang out during the service as we knew he couldn’t sit quietly and watch the whole thing. He ended up taking a walk with my babysitter (who my sister gladly allowed me to bring), but when he returned, there was a table all ready for him to sit with his iPad while he waited for the rest of us to come down to the lunch. It eased my stress, knowing she had inquired ahead of time for us.
2. Give Them An “ Out”. If you know it might be hard for a family to attend your event, but you want to include them, let them know that you completely understand if it’s too much….or that it’s ok if they just come for a little while….just being told, “We want you to be there, but will have no hard feelings if you can’t come” alleviates so much stress for special needs parents who don’t want to disappoint you, but can only do so much.
3. Be Honest. If it is going to be really loud, or fancy, or if your child is going to be required to be quiet and still for a long period of time, tell your friend ahead of time. I would much rather be told, “the kids will have to sit quietly for an hour service” then not know and endure the stares and/or disapproval of people when my kid is singing along loudly to Barney on youtube. If I know up front, it’s up to me to decide how much my son can comfortably handle.
Bottom line....while we all strive for inclusion, not every event is "right" for every kid (special needs or not!). Making an effort to be flexible and make life easier/less stressful for your friends and/or family who have children with special needs goes a long way and is usually so appreciated.