Autism and Fireworks – Tips for Managing Sensory Overload
Written by Dr. Tracy Guiou, BCBA-D
4th of July festivities are right around the corner, and we know that watching the annual fireworks display is a treasured tradition for many of you! When you’re parenting a child on the autism spectrum, this holiday can come with some additional stress over whether or not to try and establish this as a tradition within your family. For some of these children, enjoying a fireworks display can pose a challenge as the bright lights and explosive sounds can cause sensory overload. Sometimes it’s just too much to handle!
Our Kadiant team recognizes this challenge and wants to provide you with some tips that may help the whole family enjoy the show.
Preparing for fireworks in advance:
- Talk about what’s involved in your tradition (car rides, traffic, food, the actual show)
- Show pictures and videos to bring those stories to life (we recommend You Tube, perhaps gradually fading in the sound and increasing the volume)
- Discuss strategies to minimize areas of potential discomfort (e.g., if you notice sensitivity to sound, practice wearing headphones with your child during videos)
- Where possible, have your child participate in the preparation (gathering blankets, shopping for and packing special treats)
During the fireworks display, try a few of these tips to help manage sensory overload:
- Watch from a distance if you don’t think being in the thick of it all will work – traditions develop over time and this will too!
- Sunglasses may be useful for those children who are sensitive to bright lights (close to the celebration or the fireworks themselves)
- Headphones, especially noise-cancelling, are helpful for those who struggle with the booms and noise of the celebration
- A timer, or a visual schedule for portions of the evening may help your child feel more in control of the evening
- Be prepared to celebrate a smaller victory (even arriving at your celebration destination!) with leaving the festivities. Remember that these traditions will develop over time, and if the 4th of July is an important tradition for you and your family, then it’s a worthwhile goal!
We hope some of these ideas will come in handy for you this upcoming weekend. Though helpful, these tips are intended as general guidelines and it is always best to refer to your clinician for recommendations on how to navigate your child’s unique needs and behaviors.
Enjoy the weekend and Happy 4th of July!