Why are days like this a problem?
Fireworks can be very difficult if you have sensory sensitivities. Additionally, children and adults who have a trauma history can find that these loud explosive sights and sounds trigger anxiety and flashbacks. Even if you choose not to go to a fireworks display, it can be hard to completely avoid them since they may be happening all around you in your neighborhood.
A second problem is that many families consists of individuals on and off the autism spectrum, so there may be some family members that want to go to barbecues, parades, other festive celebrations, and fireworks displays, and others that would prefer to sit in a quiet room and read a book. Many families with an ASD child do not have easy access to someone who knows how to appropriately care for their child on the spectrum so leaving the child home with a sitter while the rest of the family goes out is frequently not an option. This tends to be even more problematic on holidays, since if there are one or two people who are good caretakers, they are often busy themselves with family plans on holidays.
A third and somewhat opposite problem is fearlessness combined with obsessiveness! Some ASD young people may be obsessed with the fireworks, and with setting them off, and thus may take risks that could put them in harm’s way. Children in this category may not be very amenable to direction about this because either they may be certain that they know best or because of their complete lack of awareness of the danger.
A fourth problem is that any holiday means that the comfort of the daily routine is not present to support the ASD child. This often leads to family distress, as the ASD child is melting down on the day the rest of the family has been eagerly anticipating.
Here are six suggestions for autism spectrum 4th of July survival:
- Set up a visual schedule of the day’s plan. If you are going out, bring the schedule with you.
- Help with sensory sensitivity if fireworks are on the agenda. @rrsmythe on Twitter suggested sunglasses, earplugs and/or hoodies. You can try noise canceling headphones if they work for your child (and you can afford them…). If you are watching a display, bring a light blanket or sheet that you child can hide under in case it is too visually stimulating.
- Bring crisis survival supplies if you go somewhere including good fidgets and comfort items. If you are going to an event that includes food, and your child is a picky or restrictive eater, make sure to bring along some food that he or she will like.
- Have an escape plan for outings. Before you leave, decide on what you will do if the outing becomes too overwhelming. If there is more than one parent or adult, and you have this capability, consider bringing two cars so that one person can bring a child who is getting overwhelmed home if needed, while the other family members can stay. This can help reduce resentment that the NT children might feel towards the ASD sibling, especially if they often have to leave events to care for their ASD sibling.
- You might be able to help a child prepare for seeing fireworks, or even desensitize the child to fireworks, by having them watch YouTube videos about fireworks displays. It might help to have the child first watch it without the sound on and then gradually turn up the volume.
- If your child falls into the fearless category and you are dong fireworks yourself, set up clear rules about fireworks, and rehearse the plan inside earlier in the day (of course, I had better note that I don’t mean actually setting them off during this dress rehearsal!) before the excitement level has gotten too high.
Question: What works for your family for surviving (and maybe even enjoying?) the 4th of July?