Birthdays are always something highly celebrated in my family, and for my six-year-old autistic son Bowie it is something we started from his first birthday. Whether it be a family gathering or an actual kid’s party we always attempted it. We didn’t know Bowie had autism till shortly after his second birthday.

For his second birthday I hosted a pirate themed bouncy castle party at my mums as he was heavily into ‘Jake and The Neverland Pirates’ at the time. I managed to get his costume on him although it was with some struggle, but he spent the whole party sitting on the chairs in the garden with his fingers in his ears and wouldn’t go near the bouncy castle. I even had to cover up the characters faces on the side of the castle as it scared him. This was one of the many days that I realised something wasn’t quite right.

Fast forward to his birthday just gone, his sixth birthday, and I had a totally different approach. This time round I exclusively hired a soft play area that Bowie regularly attends on SEN nights and invited 50 children. 50 is a lot, I can hear your brain saying ‘wow’ but the difference is, at least 40 of these children had special needs. I invited children we had met through school and support groups so that it basically felt like an SEN session at his favourite soft play area.

Every child was calm and enjoyed themselves. To them it was no different to an SEN session that they are used to attending. I didn’t include the singing of happy birthday and blowing out candles as this would have stressed Bowie. And I collected all gifts at the door and put them in my car before Bowie noticed as it would have caused a build-up of excitement and anxiety if he would have seen them. There was no music on in the building and no fans on, as the noise sometimes upsets some of the little guests attending.

The night was a complete success, no meltdowns, not from one child. It was a night out in the middle of the six weeks holidays. For many children who struggle without routine this meant a stress-free night for mum and dad as their child was getting rid of some of their excess energy that was building up. And Bowie got a lovely evening with his friends from school. Although the night cost a lot of money, it was well worth it to see my baby having fun on his birthday with his friends, and to hear the excitement from parents who expressed that their child had never had a birthday invite before.

I certainly will arrange another SEN friendly birthday party for my boy in the future.


Fay is the founder Awareness for Autism Facebook Page, Autism Professional Awards Nominee 2016 and a parent campaigner/activist.