Special needs inclusion doesn’t have to occur only within the walls of the local church…it should extend into the community and into our homes. Attending a youth event or a church supper is wonderful, but think of the possibilities for building the Kingdom when we build lasting relationships that extend into our lives every day.
To do this, we need to have a hospitality mindset that takes into account the possible needs of our guests. Many times, when we invite acquaintances to a community event or a party in our home, we don’t know if they have any special needs. So, as we plan, we need to consider what will make our guests comfortable, using the knowledge we have about disabilities.
Recently, we offered to host a cast party for a teen theater company’s production of Xanadu. About 25 kids, along with adult directors and a couple of chaperones joined us to celebrate a great production. We knew some of the kids pretty well, and some we had never met. I didn’t know if any of the kids had been diagnosed with special needs, but for my own peace of mind, as the hostess, my planning included hospitality strategies designed to make every teen comfortable. Join me behind the scenes for some tips on “inclusive” party planning…
1. Food and Beverages. When inviting people to our home for the first time, I always ask if they have food allergies or sensitivities. For this party, there were none, but I did communicate that we would be serving hot dogs. I asked the kids to bring either chips or a dessert; this ensures that everyone will have at least one food item they enjoy.
2. Put out the welcome mat. Coming to an unfamiliar home can be anxiety-producing for some people.Therefore, it’s important to make the environment as predictable as possible. For this party, we hung a big sign on the front of our house so that everyone knew they were at the right place.
In addition, we put a sign on the door to let them know the etiquette for getting inside. My husband was stationed in the entryway (a quiet space) to ease the transition.
3. Have some fun…We created a few decorations that made a statement. This gave the kids something to talk about as they arrived, and also let everyone know that this event was special…a celebration! We wanted to recognize the hard work of the cast, crew and directors.
4…but not TOO much fun. Notice that our dining room was completely devoid of glitzy decorations. This was by design…we wanted a quieter space for any students who might need a break from the crowd and conversation in the kitchen/family room area.
5. Give them something to DO. The beginning of a party can be a little awkward as people arrive one by one, or in small groups. To ease this awkwardness, we had some fun 70’s glitz and glamour available (in keeping with the theme of the party!) The kids had a great time trying on sunglasses, visors and necklaces. These items also gave them something to fidget with, which can be very helpful for some students (and adults, too!)
Even Mitzie, the “Xanadog” got into the action…
6. Don’t go it alone. Be sure that you have plenty of support and supervision for your guests…this is necessary for safety! On the left is my friend, Jenny…she is awesome.
7. Make it personal. Everyone likes to be individually recognized…and everyone matters! To accomplish this, we decorated the kitchen and family room with personalized stars. The guests had a great time finding their star, and it allowed us an opportunity to learn their names (a bonus for us!)
These ideas are all based squarely in common sense…if you’ve planned a get-together for teens, you’ve likely done all of these things. However, I hope you’ll consider these inclusive planning strategies as you plan your next party, remembering that the tiny accommodations you make can truly make all the difference to your guests.
And a good time was had by all…