The Fourth of July is a fun holiday for many people, but it also presents a 24-hour burst of sensory information. Fireworks explode like gunshots. Sparklers sizzle and imprint your vision with dots of light. People fill small spaces, talking, laughing, and balancing hot dogs on styrofoam plates. New tastes sink into the tastebuds, and new smells permeate the air. All these things can be overwhelming for those with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), making this special day a unique challenge.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean your family should skip the festivities. There are lots of great ways to give your child a sensory-friendly Fourth of July. Here are some ideas.
1. Help Your Child Prepare for the Day
Those on the spectrum often respond well to predictability, so telling your child what to expect can help prepare them. It’s important to give him/her the truth about noises, lights, and people involved, but don’t be afraid to get excited and talk about the fun things s/he will be able to do, as well!
If you think it would be beneficial, you can also expose your child to the things s/he might experience. This can be small, like playing a YouTube video with fireworks. But you can also go big and put on a small “practice” barbecue, if you’d like.
2. If Possible, Enlist Your Child for Practical Help
Heavy work activities can help children with autism regulate their senses, so why not ask your son or daughter for practical help? Since every case of autism is different, your child’s physical abilities will be unique. But just to give you some ideas, you could ask him/her to load up the car, set up chairs, place dishes on tables, or pinch pie crusts closed. The best part of this idea? It’s a win-win situation: it can soothe your child and ease your to-do list!
4. Cut Down on Stimulation
Will the lights from sparklers be too bright? Slide some sunglasses on your child’s nose. Will the fireworks be too loud? Give your little one noise-canceling headphones, or buy foam earplugs from any drug store (if you go with the earplugs, be sure to practice with them ahead of time. Getting them in takes a bit of a learning curve!).
3. Offer Familiarity
If you leave the house, let your child bring along his/her favorite game, book, or toy. An object that’s familiar will be soothing, and an object that’s entertaining will be…well, entertaining! And if your child gets restless while waiting for food, fireworks, and activities, entertainment can come in handy.
You can also bring familiar foods and drinks if your child will be exposed to new tastes.
5. Give Your Child His/Her Own “Special Space”
Spread out a blanket or set up a chair for your child, and ensure him/her that the space is his/hers (make sure everyone else knows that, too!). This can ease the discomfort s/he might feel in a big group of people.
6. Make a Getaway Plan
Offer your child a way out if s/he experiences sensory overload. This might involve providing a blanket to hide under, scouting out a calmer section of the property, or agreeing to leave the area altogether. You can also establish a communication system with your child so s/he can let you know if s/he needs to get away. For example, your child could tell you the truth outright, say a “safe word,” or hand you a designated object.
7. Make Sure Your Child Stays Safe
The Fourth of July presents special dangers to everyone, whether they’re neurotypical or on the spectrum. So keep tabs on your child, and make sure your whole family practices fire safety (check out the short video below for safety tips on fireworks, grills, and sparklers!).
Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments!
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.