What could be better—it’s the middle of summertime, friends and family come together, and great food abounds at cookouts and neighborhood gatherings. But for families who have loved ones with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this season can be tricky to navigate. Many of the aspects of this holiday that we all love and enjoy can be startling and unnerving for those with autism. Rest assured, the team at Acorn Health can offer guidance on how to enjoy this holiday and ensure your family members feel comfortable and safe.
What Makes Fourth of July A Challenge?
First, let’s understand exactly what makes this holiday hard for someone with autism. Like most holidays, July 4 takes us out of our normal daily routines, and people with autism typically prefer to stick to their personal routines and the predictability that comes with them.
Fourth of July also means fireworks, which can be both loud and set off when it is late and dark outside. Often, fireworks can be heard from miles away, and are set off in inconsistent patterns. All of those sensory components can be disorienting for someone with sensory sensitivities, but on July 4th, they are all happening at the same time. Plus they tend to happen where crowds are involved. It’s a lot—even for individuals without sensory sensitivities!
Tips to Enjoy Fourth of July With Your Family
It’s important that parents and caregivers do not assume that a child will not enjoy fireworks or a Fourth of July celebration just because other individuals with autism may not. In fact, some children with autism may like the bright colors, stimulation, and the environment associated with the holiday. But if you are unsure how your child will react, there are steps you can take to help prepare them for situations that may occur.
A parent or caregiver can show your child a video and describe what they will see and hear beforehand. Even if your child has limited communication abilities, this is still a dignified way to approach introducing them to fireworks. You also might consider exposing them to smaller, quieter fireworks before going to a large show. Then, if you venture out to a fireworks show, bring noise canceling headphones that can dramatically soften the noise. If your family chooses to forego a fireworks show, there are many other ways to celebrate the Fourth of July. Host a small, close-knit BBQ gathering in your backyard and set up your favorite water sprinkler.
If you end up going to an event and your child becomes upset or startled by something in the environment, such as fireworks, approach the situation with empathy and let them know you understand that it is hard for them and that you are there to help. Do your best to remain calm and provide your child with choices on what they can do next.
Planning Ahead for the July 4 Holiday
There are other sensory sensitivities that could be challenging for children with autism in addition to fireworks. For some children, even a barbecue gathering could be an environment that causes stress. Priming your child ahead of the gathering can be useful. Tell them the what, where, when, and why about what the setting will be like, in language they will understand. You can also practice what the holiday situation may be like together as a family before the actual event. For example, if you are going to a potluck and the child will need to wait in line to get their food, you might want to have a meal at home where everyone serves their food one at a time so the child can practice waiting under controlled conditions.
For some parents, it can be emotionally difficult to change activities or holiday traditions after a new autism diagnosis. If your family is choosing not to participate in fireworks or another holiday tradition for the first time this year, try creating a new one instead. Ask friends if they would be open to getting together in a smaller setting that is more suitable for your family so that you can still gather with loved ones without overwhelming your child.
While holidays are full of fond memories and traditions, we understand it can also be a time where families face new challenges. Reach out to your team at Acorn Health if you have questions about navigating holidays or would like to learn more about how ABA therapy could help your child.
Contact Acorn Health at 844-244-1818 or online at acornhealth.com/admissions. We’re here to help.