It is World Autism Awareness Week (29 March-4 April 2021) so we thought we would touch on Autistic children and weddings. It’s a subject that’s not discussed very often. Autism affects a big proportion of the population; but for the purpose of this blog we are going to focus on children.
Social events can be isolating for children and many neurodivergent people. There are triggers that induce a high level of anxiety such as noise, light, crowding and too much social interaction.
Celebrant-led wedding ceremonies are normally relaxed affairs, with a happy and joyful vibe. But any event can present an autistic child with lots of challenges, depending on what their triggers are.
As a Celebrant, I see all sorts of things going on in front of me while I’m leading a ceremony and, quite often, it’s parents trying to deal with a child who is having a melt-down while others look on. Whether that is a 2-year old toddler, or an 8-year old child with Autism, my view is that everybody, regardless of their differences, should be considered in wedding arrangements. We should embrace them and not try to hide any differences.
Children described as autistic will have different needs, depending on where they are on the spectrum. They all suffer increased sensory overload, just as we all do when we are stressed. Sensory overload is when your senses are receiving much more input than your brain can cope with. Flashing lights, loud music, strong smells, multiple conversations in one room and unexpected routines all contribute to this.
So, whether you are a couple who have autistic children in your immediate or extended family, or have guests coming who have autistic children, here are some ways to help these little guests feel as comfortable as possible:
One – explain
Describe what is going to happen on the day. This can also be done using very simple pictures for children who connect well with visual explanations. Can you produce a simple comic book representation of the day that can go with the invitations? If you can, make sure there is plenty of time for you or the child’s parents to go through it several times.
Two – comfortable clothing
If you want them to wear a particular outfit, make sure it’s washed in the same way that all their clothes are washed, so that it smells the same. Dress them in the outfit plenty of times before the wedding so that it doesn’t feel strange and make sure the material is comfortable, removing itchy labels.
Three – keep it quiet
Make sure everybody knows that this will be a celebration with no clapping, cheering or sudden noises. Accessible weddings that include autistic children can have lots of hugging instead. I have lead these before and they are just wonderful. And for later in the light evening when you can still be outside, why not opt for the silent disco. They are incredible fun!
Four – quiet sensory area
Provide an annex room or an outside space that can be used as a quiet space. Children love little teepees or tents that are their own. Whatever it is, provide a quiet area that has cushions, blankets and things to do. Help them to feel safe. Many autistic children like to focus on an ipad or similar, so it would be a bonus if you have wifi available. And if you can provide a box of toys that provide stimulation then that’s great. Think of including chewy toys, cuddly toys, fidget toys. Find out what they like. They will have their own toys with them but provide some extras, just in case.
Five – dim the lights
Try to keep to soft natural lighting. An outdoor setting is best for this. Ask your photographer to ditch the flash and don’t book anything with LED lights, strobe lights or any other bright or distracting lights.
Six – scent-free event
While there are lots of magical scent creators out there, it is better to start planning for a low- or no-scent wedding as early as possible so that all your guests can enjoy the event. These helpful guides for planning scent-free events will help get you started.
Seven – go to the venue
Take your child or little guest to the wedding venue before the ceremony, so that they become familiar with the surroundings. Not just once, but several times if they need it. Routine is a safe place. It is important to ensure there are no surprises to ensure accessible weddings for autistic children.
Eight – meet the celebrant
A stranger can sometimes trigger outbursts. Meeting your Celebrant, hearing their voice, knowing what’s going to happen is important in showing your child that this is someone they can trust.
Nine – keep it small
If you can keep your ceremony small, in terms of the number of guests, then do so. A large group of people all talking at the same time can be overwhelming for autistic children.
Ten – don’t stress
Be guided by your instincts and the knowledge you have about autistic children in your family. And don’t be afraid to ask for ideas from the parents of your little guests.
Get in touch
We are all individuals and, as such, we contribute in our own special way to your very special day. Just put some strategies in place and relax, knowing you’ve done the best you can. Get in touch to discuss your Celebrant led wedding ceremony, in which we can include all your guests. For more information and expert advice on autism, go to https://www.autism.org.uk .
Photos: stock images have been used for this article.