Birthdays. They come once a year and are usually met with much anticipation and excitement—balloons, cake, ice cream, friends and presents. These are all wonderful traditions, but what happens when you have a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? These are the very things that can overwhelm a child, sending him (and parents) into a tailspin of emotions over what was supposed to be a great celebration. These tips will help the family celebrate and enjoy your child with SPD.

1. Bigger isn’t always better. I used to think I had to invite every one of my son’s friends to his birthday party in order for it to be a success. Wrong. The more kids I invited, the more hyper he got because there was too much going on. Now we let him to invite one friend to do one special activity, so the focus is on the experience, not the behavior. Having only one friend also keeps the noise level to a minimum, which helps the birthday child function on his special day.

2. No hype. Remind your child that his birthday is coming and you are excited to celebrate his special day. Talk about his first birthday and share photos from years past. Instill the idea that the day he was born was one of the best days of your life and that you are thankful for him. This will help prioritize what’s really important: that he is happy, healthy and loved.

3. Remove potential obstacles. Kids who are sensory avoiding (get stressed out by loud noises, do not like to be touched, get overwhelmed when there are multiple things going on) will probably act out if they can’t process what is going on around them. Set your child up for success by removing obstacles before the party begins.

Instead of latex balloons that pop easily and can scare children, opt for Mylar balloons. They are less likely to pop and last longer.

Instead of buying 10 gifts, buy two or three gifts that you know will be played with and are beneficial to him (e.g. necklace making kit, dinosaur excavation kit or water beads).

It is probably too much for a child with sensory issues to open gifts in front of 20 people, say thank you and remain calm. Know your child’s limits and work around them.

4. Pick the right time of day. If your son is usually grumpy in the morning, plan a get-together in the afternoon. If you have a big family and your child doesn’t do well with lots of people around, turn his birthday into a weeklong celebration and space out when he sees people. This will be more fun for everyone involved.

5. Manage expectations. Children with SPD have a hard time understanding social situations that other people know how to handle. Take the drama out of a birthday meltdown and create an environment where everyone wins. Instead of playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, opt for a coloring contest where each person gets a prize for participating. If you notice your child is getting overwhelmed, take a time out. Let the birthday child have a few minutes to collect his thoughts and take things down a notch.

Celebrating a birthday can be bittersweet for parents of children with SPD. Perhaps you have thought of every way possible to make the day great for your child, only to be disappointed when he acts out because he can’t process all that is going on around him. Perhaps you feel guilty or question whether or not you are a good parent for only allowing your child to invite one friend to his party. If so, let go of the guilt and accept the reality for what it is: your child functions better when things are simple. Celebrate that—and celebrate that your family has spent another year growing together.

Meagan Ruffing is a parenting journalist with a sensory-seeking and sensory-avoiding child. She encourages parents to learn as much as they can about their child’s diagnosis to help cultivate a happy and healthy home environment.