While many of us look forward to the parades and fireworks on the 4th of July, it can be overwhelming and stressful for children with Autism or sensory processing difficulties. Below are some tips for making this Independence Day enjoyable for the whole family:
Prepare your child for the day’s events.
- Social stories work well to prepare your child for what they may experience and how it may make them feel, and provide scripts and reminders of sensory strategies that will be available to them.
- Visual schedules can add an element of routine and predictability to the day. Seeing the day’s events and being able to refer back to it can be easier for a child to understand than being told verbally what to expect (especially if your child has language delays or deficits). Remember, visual schedules can be as structured or as flexible as you want or as your child needs/can handle. A dry erase board allows you to make quick changes for when things are not going as planned.
- Watch videos of parades and fireworks. Start with the volume down and gradually increase it. Talk about the crowds, the noise level, and the visual stimulation. Make sure this conversation is positive and calm, but also communicates what can be done to reduce stimulation if needed.
Come armed with sensory strategies that will help your child calm down if overstimulated.
- Headphones or ear plugs can reduce noise. If your child has never worn them before, try them at home in the days leading up to the event so that they are familiar.
- Sunglasses or a billed hat can reduce visual input by dimming the light or cutting the visual field. A small pop up tent or umbrella can provide your child with a safe space with reduced visual input and lower risk of being touched/bothered by others when he or she needs a break.
- While crunchy snacks can be alerting, chewy snacks (or those that require a sucking motion) can be calming. Licorice, beef jerky, and bagels are foods that require heavy chewing!
- Heavy work can help to prevent over-stimulation, and can calm your child if they get to that point despite using the above strategies. Passive heavy work can include things like ankle weights, a weighted blanket/backpack/lap pad, or firm hugs/squishes. Get your child moving for more active heavy work options, like bear crawling, crab walking, swimming, and jumping.
Be observant, flexible, and realistic about expectations. Watch your child’s reactions; you know him or her best. Even if you use all the tips above, your child may still become overwhelmed and overstimulated. Try not to stress about it or let it ruin your day. Watching fireworks from the car, or heading home early and playing games can still result in a fun day for all!
For some fun 4th of July themed crafts you can do at home that are OT-approved (like Star-Spangled Slime, Shaving Cream Firework Art, and Confetti Launchers), check out our Pinterest page!
Author: Krista Flack, MS OTR/L