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Deaf-friendly birthday parties and party games

Photo: Practising party games at home can help deaf children join in with parties.

Birthday parties can be wonderful fun for kids. However, deaf children may feel left out if they can’t hear the instructions for party games, listen to music, or hear the other children.

If your deaf child has been invited to a party, or your hearing child has invited a deaf friend to theirs, read and share these tips with parents to make sure everyone gets to join in the fun.

“My son loves party games. Last year we had a party for him, and he was the only deaf child there. We worried at first about how he would join in with musical games such as musical statues and pass the parcel. I bought a controllable disco light and while the games were going on I had the lights flashing. When the music stopped I stopped the flashing lights. This helped my son and he fully enjoyed all the party games.”
Michelle

Before the party

“Arrive on time or early. This allows your child not to get overwhelmed with the extra noise all at once. If possible, try to arrive at the same time as one of their friends who understands them. Speak to the parents organising the party beforehand because most of the time they will accommodate your requests. For example, don’t have the music too loud, sit my child near the front if there’s a show, like a magician, and if I bring name stickers do you mind if the children wear them so my child knows everyone’s name in case they can’t hear when they tell them.”
Beth 

  • Ask the deaf child’s parents how their child prefers to communicate. Not all deaf children use British Sign Language (BSL). Every deaf child will have a preferred way of communicating, so find out if they use speech, BSL or a mixture of both. If they do use BSL, ask their parents if they’ll need an interpreter with them. Click here for more communication tips.
  • Ask the parents if they have any additional needs or if there’s anything you should be aware of that could impact on the child’s enjoyment of the game, such as a visual impairment or difficulty balancing.
  • Deaf children will find it difficult to hear if the noise levels are high and there’s a lot of background noise. Try to keep music at a reasonable volume, and use soft furnishings like cushions, throws and tablecloths to improve acoustics indoors.
  • Before the party starts, show the deaf child where the toilet is and, if possible, show them a quiet area where they can go if they need a break from all the noise.
  • If you’re hiring a children’s party entertainer, let them know in advance that a deaf child will be attending. They may need to think about adapting their costume (for example, avoiding heavy face paint around the mouth to allow lip-reading). You could also share with them our deaf awareness tips.
  • Disco lights are great fun, but they can make it really tricky to lip-read! If you’re using flashing lights, make sure there’s an area which is well-lit where the deaf child can go if they want to talk to a friend.
  • If the party involves doing an activity such as laser tag, speak to the activity organisers to let them know a deaf child will be attending. There may be adaptations they can make.

During the party

"At birthday parties, the main difficulties are the immense background noise, which can be overwhelming for deaf kids, and difficulty hearing announcements or instructions. We try to suggest that the person hosting the party always gets Charlotte’s attention before they start giving out instructions. They often also ask her to come to the front of the group to listen."
Sara 

  • Give everyone a name badge. That way, deaf children know who everybody is even if they miss out on hearing names during introductions. 
  • Give children as much information about the game as possible beforehand and have a ‘practise round’ to give deaf children a chance to check they’ve understood the rules before the game starts.
  • Use tactile signs during games to help children who might not hear instructions. For example, a tap on the arm during Pin the Tail on the Donkey means you want the child to take the blindfold off.
  • Use visual cues during games to help children who might not hear the music or other noises. For example, during musical bumps, musical statues, and pass the parcel, use flashing lights or raise your arm to tell the children to stop.
  • Include some deaf-friendly games, such as Fingernary.
  • Flick room lights on and off to get attention instead of using your voice.
  • If it’s a fancy-dress party, encourage the children to remove things like masks or beards when they’re playing with the deaf child, as these can make it difficult to lip-read.
  • Be aware that a deaf child may remove their hearing aid or cochlear implant, especially if the party is noisy. If this happens, put the hearing aid or cochlear implant in a safe, dry place away from little hands, and let the child know that you have it in case they want it back. Otherwise, give it back to the child’s parent at the end of the party.

Tips from other parents

Bryonie’s tips:

"We’ve been invited to a few parties with Winnie (and her sister). She used to find large groups of people overwhelming but, as she’s grown, her ability to adapt has grown too. Instead of trying to leave immediately, she’ll watch for a while. She enjoys dancing to lights and we play games at home so that she can join in with her younger sister who listens to the music.

Winnie uses British Sign Language (BSL), so she needs a BSL signer with her so that she can join in. I’d never ask the host to provide a signer, but we’ve sometimes been ‘not invited’ to parties because it’s ‘hard work’ having her there and other people can’t accommodate. Winnie’s resilience is incredible, though I’m not sure a child her age should have to be so resilient."

Sara’s tips:

"It’s important that your child feels comfortable. Charlotte’s cochlear implants have a quieter programme which she can switch on if the situation is too loud, but we’ve found that what works best is allowing her to take her processors off if she feels more comfortable. She often chooses to go to parties held in large halls, with bouncy castles or with loud disco music without her cochlear implants on so that she can play away without the sound annoying her. We’ve chosen to use sign language as well as speech and it's perfect for occasions like this."

Tina's tips:

"I’m always worried about Charlie losing his BAHA when he goes to parties - especially when they’re at a soft play area! Charlie always makes sure he’s extra careful when playing at a party. We’ve also brought him up to be proud of who he is so when new children ask any questions about his hearing aid or microtia then he feels comfortable enough to reply, “I was just born that way!”