When you think of July 4th, it’s likely your memory is flooded with the smells of BBQs, fireworks, and fresh-cut grass; the sights of fireworks exploding in the air and sparklers streaking through the night; and the sounds of children running and screaming in play and fireworks bursting across the sky.
Simply put, holidays don’t get much noisier and frantic than the Fourth of July. And if you have a child or family member with autism, the holiday’s many distractions and frantic nature can often pose seemingly countless challenges.
And for some families, the idea of trying to help their sensory-sensitive child enjoy the holiday might be just a far-off fantasy. If your family and child is happiest staying indoors to watch the fireworks online or on television and quietly celebrating at home, that’s totally fine according to Aviva Weiss, an occupational therapist in Merion Station, PA.
“If families are going to be doing something different from what they usually do, these changes can be difficult for kids with sensory difficulties,” Weiss said. “Every family has to make the decision that is best for them. Some families should not engage in activities that are overwhelming for them and their children. If it means that everyone is going to need to take a Valium the next day, it’s not worth it.”
But what if your child and family does want to go out and participate in the festivities or go to a big party?
As is often the case, the first and most crucial step is preparing your child in advance. Discuss with him or her about what to expect at the part or fireworks display. One way to prepare a child is to show them videos of fireworks online, first playing it at a soft volume and gently increasing the noise to better prepare him or her.
In parallel with the preparation talk, also emphasize the fun to your child by talking about what you enjoy most about the Fourth of July, whether it be barbeque with friends, fireworks display, or the joy of seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in ages. By relating what makes you excited about the holiday, you will help to get him or her excited about it as well. And be sure to focus on the specific activities your child will like in particular, be it an ice cream cone or the fireworks display.
When it comes to the actual holiday party, be sure to pack a bag with his or her favorite items including toys, games, and snacks, which can serve as a distraction if your child starts to get impatient while waiting for the fireworks. In addition, having a blanket, towel, or chair for your child is another smart move as carving out a personal space for your child within a crowded party is a great way to make him or her feel secure. Also, never leave the house without headphones, even if your child isn’t usually sensitive to noises. Fireworks are extremely loud and shocking and seeing them for the first time can be jarring for anyone.
By focusing on these simple but essential steps in advance, you can anticipate many of the more predictable bumps in the road in order to have a Fourth of July that the whole family can enjoy.