Birthday presents and loot bags from an Autism Edmonton Occasio program birthday party celebration.

Mental health

Giving youth with autism the birthday party they deserve

Sep 6, 2023
A child’s birthday party can create memories that last a lifetime. But, imagine having a birthday party where the people you invite don’t show up. Or, being the only kid in your class not invited to a classmate’s birthday party. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s unfortunately what many autistic children and youth experience far too often. 

Promoting inclusion and social interaction

Research shows autistic individuals and their families experience lower rates of social and community inclusion compared to their neurotypical peers and those in other disability categories. Why? Because young people who are on the autism spectrum have difficulty communicating with others and struggle in social situations — often taking a toll on the mental health and well-being of both the child, their parents and caregivers. 
Autism Edmonton’s Occasio program is determined to change that. By organizing inclusive, structured recreational events and regular gatherings for youth on the spectrum, the organization is helping to facilitate new bonds and friendships. These activities give youth the opportunity to develop confidence, gain independence and be a part of a community that they’re proud of. 
In partnership with the TELUS Edmonton and Northern Alberta Community Board, we’re funding the birthday party celebrations that the Occasio program hosts for their youth members. 

More than just a birthday party

Children and youth wearing party hats and eating pizza at an Autism Edmonton Occasio program birthday party celebration.
One of the more popular Occasio events Autism Edmonton puts on are their monthly birthday party celebrations. It gives youth the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays in a fun and supportive environment with friends they made and the community they built through Occasio activities. It means so much for the youth involved and their families to experience moments often taken for granted, such as having friends show up and sing “Happy Birthday” to them.

My daughter was able to celebrate her sweet sixteen birthday with the friends she made through the program. She hadn’t had a party in over ten years, so it made this milestone birthday that much more special.

- A mother whose daughter participates in Occasio programming

Each monthly birthday celebration the Occasio staff put on are hosted at different venues throughout Edmonton to give the youth involved new, fun experiences. For example, birthday party celebrations take place at virtual reality and arcade game rooms, bowling alleys, movie theaters and the Edmonton Zoo. From pizza and snacks, to a birthday cake, to presents and other activities, Autism Edmonton plans and provides all of the essentials for a fun birthday party celebration. 

Not only do you see the children and youth in attendance having a blast, it is the anecdotes you hear from the parents that are so impactful. We often hear from the parents that it’s the first time their child had a birthday party with friends in attendance, and how much it meant to them to be invited to a birthday party.

- Justin Morlock, staff member at Autism Edmonton

Showing youth with autism that they belong

TELUS Friendly Future Foundation® supporters are making it possible for autistic youth to develop new friendships and be a part of a community they are proud of. Thanks to a grant from the TELUS Edmonton and Northern Alberta Community Board, Autism Edmonton is now able to host birthday party celebrations year-round.