Modifying Parties for Teens with Sensory Issues, Physical Disabilities and other Special Needs
If your teen has special needs and is becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, you’ll have had conversations with clergy, teachers and your family about how your service will unfold. Or, you may plan a different experience entirely for your teen to connect with Torah.
Adding a party to the plans may seem overwhelming but know that outstanding vendors and clever modifications can make a Mitzvah celebration a memorable, positive experience for the guest of honor and all your family and friends. We asked some Mitzvah parents and AMC Preferred Mitzvah Vendors to share their best tips for a successful special needs Mitzvah party.
Agree on a Party Style
Some teens may want a dance party because they know their friends will enjoy it. Some would prefer a family dinner at a favorite restaurant. A Mitzvah mom shared that she and her teen agreed on a compromise party: games and low-key activities for him and a DJ dance party at lower volume for the extended family and friends who wanted to hit the dance floor. Both were pleased with the plans for the big day.
Choose a Comfortable Venue
Some Mitzvah parents of special needs teens share that their kids feel most comfortable in spaces with lots of light or that are set in nature. You may require the venue to be all one level to avoid elevator use or heights. Or you may want to host a relaxed event at your home or neighborhood clubhouse. Explore venue possibilities that fit your attendee numbers and needs and narrow them down. Take your teen to only the top few and decide together on the best fit.
If changing locations too many times causes challenges, look for ways to minimize movement. Can you have your celebration immediately follow the service in the same place? A Mitzvah mom notes that keeping the transitions to a minimum was a huge help in reducing stress for her autistic teen.
Share Your Modifications List with ALL Vendors
Let’s say your teen needs lowered volume, limited lighting and no touching or approaching his personal space. If all members of your vendor teams don’t know the modification plan, someone may accidentally cause your teen discomfort. Avoid this by sharing the plan with everyone, from event manager to caterer to entertainers.
Know What Fun Looks Like
DJ Neezy (aka Ben Needle) notes that the number one duty of a DJ is to build a relationship in which the DJ is aware of what makes the bar or bat mitzvah child happy AND comfortable. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to customizing your party! Also, he notes, “Make sure that your entertainment partner knows what it looks like when the guest of honor is having fun. That way, he or she can respond rapidly if your teen is looking uncomfortable.”
Focus on the Beauty of Real
Life isn’t perfect, is it? Neither are any of us. Jenni Girtman of Life on Film Photography is adept at working with special needs families and says it’s important to show each family authentically. “Real” is the goal, not perfection. She spends time at initial meetings observing if the Mitzvah kid needs extra space, physically or emotionally. “If a teen is reacting to flash, or how close my lens appears, I can immediately adjust.” Jenni works to capture the story of the day and will follow the teen’s lead to give breaks when needed to create a comfortable experience and capture images that show their personality. And, she says, sometimes the non-posed images are the ones parents end up loving most.
Keep it Fluid
Cathy Schwartz of Atlanta Fever Entertainment notes that she frequently encounters teens with special needs who want a party but don’t want to be the center of attention. Fever DJs are known for making the guest of honor feel special without singling them out. If they want to be on the dance floor, but don’t want all eyes on them, the DJ or a dancer may accompany them to make them feel more comfortable. If physical limitations are an issue, games may be the best way to entertain the kids. But, Cathy says, that even with carefully planning and modifications, some things may need to change in the moment. “We want to make it wonderful for each teen, and if he or she at the last minute feels unsure, we can switch it up. We know how to modify on the fly.”
Thank Guests in Ways that Work
One parent of a dyslexic teen worried over the seemingly insurmountable thank you notes task. She had her teen type her thank you messages and added her personal signature to each one so that guests knew it wasn’t a form letter. Another teen with disabilities that prevented writing at all recorded a thank you song. His parents emailed it to their guests as a unique and personal way of expressing gratitude for sharing his milestone.
Thinking outside the box, modifying traditional party elements and working as a team with your vendors, you can create a memorable celebration for your teen.