Preparing for a Social Gathering – children with Autism

Social gatherings are a great place for your child to practice social skills and communication. Sometimes children with autism can find them overwhelming as these events are often guided by many inconsistent complex social rules, overstimulating environments and unpredictable behaviour from others.  Children with autism can also have difficulty with communication, sharing, and reading social cues which can lead to anxiety, tantrums and misunderstandings with other children.

At SDN we recognise the different social challenges that a child with autism may face.  We believe the key to helping your child navigate these situations is through preparation and understanding:

Understanding your child

The best way to prepare for any social gatherings is to understand your child:

  • What are your child’s strengths?
  • What activities do they enjoy?
  • What environmental events or triggers may cause problems?
  • How will they most likely react when triggered?
  • What calms them down most effectively?

Understanding the event

Find out as much information as you can about the event. If possible, talk with the organiser to find out the specific details.  The more information you have, the easier it will be to prepare your child. Try to find out:

  • How many people will be there?
  • Who will be there? Are they familiar with people or strangers?
  • What kind of noises and lighting will there be?
  • Will there likely be any triggers for your child?
  • How long does the event go for?
  • What is the structure of the event?

Tips to help your child

  • Ask them questions to find out their concerns
  • Consider the information you have found out about the event as well as the needs of your child. Make adjustments, eliminations or adaptions where necessary.
  • Prepare them with as much information as you can
  • If possible, visit the location beforehand or watch videos about similar events
  • Role-play specific social customs for that event e.g. Saying happy birthday when you arrive and giving the gift.
  • Empower your child with calming down strategies. What can they do if they become anxious or overwhelmed?
  • Remove them from situations that cause anxiety during the event or make modifications to the environment e.g. If your child is sensitive to noise and singing happy birthday causes them stress, give them the opportunity to go into a different room, listen from a distance or wear noise cancellation headphones etc.

Strategies for parents

  • Be honest with people at the event about what your child finds difficult and why
  • Prioritise the events you are invited to. It is perfectly ok not to attend the ones that are not manageable.
  • Talk to other parents of children with autism and swap stories on your struggles, triumphs and strategies.

While the preparation for a social event can be tricky for parents, please remember that you are giving your child the opportunity to practice the fundamental life-long skills of communication and social interaction.


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