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Ever the arty Autie

Autism friendly birthday parties?


Family by Donna Williams

Family by Donna Williams

Got a child, teen or adult on the autism spectrum who has had a birthday party where you bought everything, sent out invites, even waited hopefully for people to arrive, but nobody showed up? Here’s some alternatives:


We started a diversity friendly dinner club in 2006 which is still going. It’s numbers have been as low as 4 and as high as 25 and now, in 2015, it is still going.

It runs once a month and those having birthdays each month find us all happy to celebrate it with them. If we know in advance their birthday is next month members sometimes show up with cards and sometimes presents but there’s always a song for them and the host of the restaurant by now knows and values our group so much she often will come out with sweets or cake on behalf of the birthday person. The thing is, these clubs are easy to start up and you can make them in your own commutable area. So how to do it?

Diversity Friendly which means those attending will be diverse. If you’re looking for ‘Aspie only’ then you’re looking for Exclusive, not looking for Diverse. So you need to create your own group that would allow you to include only Aspies.

Diversity Friendly groups are open to people right across the autism spectrum including those who communicate through typing rather than verbally. However, this does not mean everyone and anyone can attend.

To attend people do have to have some basic level of self management and be capable of eating at a restaurant with reasonable respect to fellow guests. This allows everyone to relax and keeps the venues happy to host our groups.

If you have behaviours that are likely to seriously make fellow dinner guests too uncomfortable to return next time, or seriously worry the venue owner, then you are not ready to join the group. The same applies if you have behaviours that would be harrassing or endangering to others. If you have these kinds of behaviours then get professional help until these are managed before considering joining the group.

A support person may be welcome but in order to respect the venue everyone attending is a participant – there are no ‘observers’, no ‘tourists’.

To start your own dinner club:

a) pick an autism friendly venue, preferably near to public transport.
b) pick a day and time each month where you’ll guarantee to show up (ie THIRD Sunday of the month at 7pm etc).
c) start with just yourself or a family member until you gather numbers. Don’t quit too easily. Give it at least 3 months of good PR before you give up.
d) to get good numbers try and ensure your group does not compete with another local group.
e) have a small sign for your table so newbies can find your group
f) create an email list for members so you can send out a reminder the week before your dinner club meet ups
g) list your dinner club locally or online to attract newbies
h) ensure newbies understand the ‘ground rules’ and appoint a manager of the group who can deal with issues if necessary.


And if you live in a remote area with nowhere to host such a club and nobody to come to it how about connecting on skype with others on the spectrum and having Skype tea parties? You can even do this with people in other states and other countries by finding suitable time zone meet ups. Because you have video with Skype you can bring things along to show and communicate about. Because you have a text box to type in it doesn’t matter if you don’t have functional verbal speech.

You can even develop parallel environments so, for example, you can aim the screen camera at a movie, dance video, or kareoke screen in your own watch along with the other person in their own room. You can invite the other person over for a cook up and have the screen camera focused on your food preparation, show them your recipe, walk them around your kitchen.


You can also connect your autie with a face to face activity club… a bowling group, a walking group, a dance class, a gym class, an archery club, an astronomy group, a choir, a book club, a movie club, a bird watching or train spotting club… and then when its your autie’s birthday coming up you tell the group leader and ask if its ok for you to bring along the party to the group for them to enjoy on their way in to the activity, during a break in the course of the activity, or tacked onto the end of the activity on the way out. You just pack up a large suitcase with the food and party paraphenalia, a fold up card table and, bingo, instant party with guests already present, shared activity already familiar and established which makes one feel part of things on one’s birthday and group participants generally thrilled to enjoy the surprise of a party they never knew was coming.

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
Author, artist,and presenter.

I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.

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