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  • Writer's pictureCarmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning

Tips for the autistic family member on the 4th of July

The fourth of July can be a fun time, but it can also be a terrifying time for the family member on the spectrum. Here are some tips and tricks for making a successful holiday.

Invest in a set of headphones or earplugs

Earplugs to block noise – not the ones we use for swimming. Think construction worker grade or Etymotic earplugs. Or use a set of headphones. You can even play soothing or patriotic music through them.

Turn up the TV

Sometimes we live near a venue that hosts a fireworks display or our neighbors decide to create their own spectacular show. So what do we do when our homes are invaded by the noise? Try playing predictable music or a favorite TV show that will cover sound. It might even be a good time to whip out that Playstation.

Preview the show

By their nature, fireworks are unpredictable. But we can try to prepare our kids to better help them know what they can expect. Sparklers may not have much sound, but they look like mini fireworks. You can also watch videos of fireworks displays. Here is a video of the fireworks show at Disney, accompanied by Disney music. The short animated video How Do Fireworks Work? Science for Kids – Kids Education by Mocomi Kids helps explain the components and workings of fireworks and sparklers.

Watch from far away

A grocery store or other nearby parking lot, or the side of the road with the windows rolled up may provide a comfortable distance.

Take comfort items

Pack items that help soothe your child, such as a weighted vest, favorite toy, snacks, or handheld game.

Be mindful of the entire day’s schedule

Before the fireworks show, is there a party or a picnic? Are there breaks for downtime in the day? If it’s an overloaded day, fireworks may just put your child over the edge. If fireworks are your priority activity for the day, consider limiting some of your other planned activities.

Understand your child’s limits.

First things first, pick an activity that is within your child’s limits. No one knows that better than a parent! Base your decision off what they’ll be able to handle and avoid events or activities that you know will be overstimulating. This can include going to the actual parade, festival, or a firework show, or it can simply mean participating from a distance or celebrating the holiday at home.

Children with autism respond well to a routine and predictability.

Don’t shield them from the Fourth of July, rather tell your child what they can expect will happen – loud and sudden noises, bright lights in the sky, smoke in the air, and crowds of people. It may help to show videos or images prior to your outing of the fireworks show, parades, or people celebrating the holiday. This gives your child the opportunity to visualize the expectation.

Make sure that your excitement for the holiday resonates with your child!

You want them to be just as excited about the holiday as you are, so tell them stories of the yummy food, friends, and activities. Explain to them that it has the potential to be overstimulating, but the Fourth of July can be an autism-friendly holiday.

Create a zone only for your child.

Bring along a chair, a blanket, pillows, or anything else that will establish a clear space in which your child with autism can claim as their own. Tell everyone else in your group as well! This can ease their discomfort of being in a new environment with new people, as well as establish a sense of comfort.

Bring familiar foods and drinks.

This is always a good idea for any family whose child with autism has particular preferences in food and drinks. In case you and your family go to a party or barbecue where there will be new foods and you know your child will be put off from trying those items, bring along something that is familiar and a favorite of theirs!

Bring distractions.

In case the family barbecue or fireworks show becomes too much for your child with autism, bringing headphones, a blanket, toys, or any other familiar activity can be the distraction your child needs.

Plan B.

In case things go awry and the Fourth of July festivities do become overwhelming for your child with autism, always have a Plan B. Park your car close to where you and your family sit for the show, parade, or barbecue so you can make a quick exit. This goes along with the previous tip, but also bring something that will calm your child in case they make an outburst – a blanket, headphones, or their favorite toy.

It’s also a good idea to establish a signal between you and your family members for when your child with autism is ready to leave. This can either be by having your child tell you explicitly, share a safe word, or if your child is non-verbal, then setting a hand signal prior that will let you know when to exit.

Safety First!

Last but not least, stay safe this Fourth of July. It’s important to remind yourself and your family that fireworks, albeit are mesmerizing, are highly dangerous, flammable, and could hurt you. Tell your child to pay attention to their surroundings and to keep a distance from the fireworks. Sparklers can be just as dangerous as the large fireworks in the sky, but there are other options that are just as fun for your child to play with!

  • Glow sticks

  • Bubbles

  • Silly string

  • Colored streamers

  • Confetti or party poppers


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