Whatever your child wants to do most and makes him/her happiest is your best bet—and if that’s not a party, that’s okay.
Indulge your child’s special interests. Sure, you may want your child to have a themed birthday like other kids have (Disney princesses, anyone?). But think about what your child likes best. It is his or her day to celebrate. If he only wants books about subways as a birthday gift, indulge him. Do what you can to make your child happy on his or her special day.
Keep your own expectations low. Try to remember that it may be a tough day for you. Maybe plan a special treat for yourself. Ask friends for support if you need to. Don’t fret if the birthday plans—whether a party, a special meal, or gift opening—doesn’t go according to plan. This is one day you should definitely go with the flow and not fight what happens. Let your child take the lead.
Write your child a birthday letter. This is a very special tradition in many families. Every year, write your child a letter about what he or she was like during the past year. It’s a time to jot down the funny things they said or did, the outings you enjoyed together the most, or even just their favorite foods or games. Keep it positive; it will be a good reminder for you about all the fun moments you had this year—and it’ll be a treasured keepsake for your child years later.
Put your ‘special needs blinders’ on. By this, I mean don’t compare your kid to other kids. Don't think about what they can or can't do. There are 364 other days of the year that you worry about that. Celebrate where they are and how far they have come, not how much further they need to go.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Parenting any child is a tough job. Raising children with special needs can be exponentially harder. Your accomplishment of acing another year as a parent to a child or children with special needs is something to celebrate too. And so is your child’s progress during that year—because it is, in very large part, thanks to your support and love. Be proud of yourself.
Joanna Dreifus, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, is the founder of Special Kids NYC.