4th of July is upon us and it doesn’t have to be as stressful for your child with autism as you might think. Yes, sensory sensitivities come to the forefront during holidays such as the 4th, and your guy or gal with ASD may rather stay inside than endure what can be quite unsettling and even painful to them. But, for some kids, a little preparation goes a long way.
Here are some things that you can do to prepare for this festive holiday:
Prepare your child. If your child is able to talk about their fears, take the time to explain the significance of this holiday and its traditions. Let your child know in advance what might happen and talk about what you both can do in advance. This will give your child some sense of control and help reduce his level of anxiety.
Write a social story. I like to use social stories that have actual photographs that include the child or adult with ASD. If you had a good experience with fireworks in the past… even if it was a Disney… use them as part of the social story. The Gray Center is a wonderful resource for learning how to write your own social story on any topic.
Bring a timer: If you know that your local fireworks display lasts about 20 minutes, set the timer for 25. This way your child knows that there is a time limitation. Contact the city or park in advance to ask about the time length of the upcoming display.
Have access to sound canceling devices just in case: You can always use your hands to cup your child’s ears, but especially if you have other children running around, that’s not always practical. Be prepared by carrying along earplugs or noise cancelling headphones. A good quality headphone can be the “make it or break it” for 4th of July for many.
Review self-regulation strategies with your child before venturing out: Deep breathing helps supply oxygen to the body and brain and helps us function more efficiently as well as relax our muscles.
Bring along items that provide a distraction or comfort: Pack items like a favorite toy, snacks, or handheld game. A video in the car can offer an easy alternate.
Surf the web for examples. Find a movie or video to watch about fireworks. Watching it on a screen allows you to control the volume. Start with the volume on low and gradually increase it just a bit above your child’s tolerance level. This is called gradual desensitization and is a good way to help your child become more comfortable with things that are difficult. You can also try to integrate real fireworks like ones that make small popping noises and adding sparklers for the visual effect in your own backyard.
There’s an App for that – A free interactive app, Fireworks 123, is now available. It provides a child with immediate feedback by showing a visual representation of the firework choices. Also available via iTunes is a $.99 app, Fireworks Blast-Off that allows the user total control over their own fireworks display. These are good but of course not near like the real experience of a booming fireworks display.
Seek out alternatives. If you want to see fireworks, but just don’t want to get too close, find out where your city is having a display and consider other locations from where you can watch. The top floor of parking garages are often great spots… you can see the lights from afar without enduring the booming at a degree of discomfort.
Have a Plan B. Best intentions and planning doesn’t always make this event as acceptable as you’d like it. If you decide to try a live fireworks event be prepared to bail out at any time. Park close for an easy get-away.
Wishing you and your families a very happy and safe 4th of July!!!