If you think kids' parties are a small hell, magnify that tenfold for kids with special needs. The sounds, the smells, the commotion. The stimulation can be nightmarish for some children. But what if there was an alternative, a venue for kids that was fun without being loud and harsh?
What she wanted didn't exist, so mom Raquel Noriega made the change she wanted to see. She bought up a venue in which to host sensory friendly parties so that kids like her two year-old daughter Ava could enjoy herself.
“Our parties are customizable to each child’s needs and likes,” Noriega said of her Long Island venue, Pixie Dust. “Every detail is thought and talked about with the parent during the planning process to prevent any meltdowns.”
There is more to parties than pizza and cake. At Pixie Dust, even the menu is tailored since many children with special needs follow restricted diets.
Only one party is held at a time, to ensure the atmosphere remains reasonably calm. Pixie Dust has ticked all the inclusivity boxes, from specially trained staff to a sensory play experience.
“We are definitely not a cookie cutter party venue,” Noriega. “[We] are a judgment-free zone. We get it.”
In an ideal world, Pixie Dust wouldn't exist. And I mean that in the nicest possible sense. In an ideal world, we wouldn't need special venues for kids with special needs. Insofar as possible, existing venues would take the time to listen to parents and meet the needs of their clients (children). Inclusion is about being open and trying to accommodate varying needs.
While I applaud Noriega's vision, inclusion shouldn't demand its own string of specialist businesses. She is catering to a hole in the market that shouldn't even exist.
Fortunately more businesses are factoring in sensory needs and accommodations all the time. Education must continue.
First and foremost children should be exposed to kids with special needs. They should be taught that these children have special qualities, too, and with support and understanding, they can make good friends.
After all, birthday venues are only useful if you have friends to attend your party. And the majority of children with autism and other special needs are sorely lacking in this department.
Every week there is a news story about an autistic child who celebrates their birthday alone or with the help of well-meaning strangers.
As a parent, such stories tear me up. No matter how you dice it, strangers make a poor substitute for real friends who know you and value you for who you are.
Our world may never be ideal, but it could be a hell of a lot better if we work at it.