4th of July and the Special Needs Child
July 4th is almost here! For lots of us, this holiday is filled with family get-togethers, barbecues, and of course, fireworks. But as well all know, many children with Autistm spectrum disorder, language delays, or social communication challenges have a difficult time on the 4th of July. The fireworks are too loud, the crowds are overwhelming, the routines changes are upsetting, and they may not have the typical foods they like to eat. The fun, food, and festivities that we love cause feelings of distress in many of our special-needs kids.
So what can we do to ensure that the whole family has fun this holiday? Find out below!
Review expectations: Discuss exactly what to expect before you head to the 4th of July festivities. Create a plan for the day, and try to make stick as closely to the plan as possible. Read books, create a social story (check out storyboardthat), and watch videos of parties and fireworks so they know what to expect. Think about your child and decide which aspects of the day might affect them the most. Focus on those in your discussions before the events, so that you don't overwhelm them.
Prepare them for fireworks: Show your child videos on Youtube of what fireworks look like and sound like before the event. Make them seem fun and exciting, so they go into the event feeling positive. However, it is best to tell them that fireworks are loud and have lots of colors, particularly if they have sensitivity to sound or light.
Bring comforting objects: Noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, favorite blankets, distracting toys/electronics, etc. can help a child with sensory processing issues handle the sensory-overloading experience.
Keep it positive: Because there are so many potentially upsetting factors on the 4th for a child with special needs, it is important for parents to be as flexible with their children as possible (within reason). Give them choices to give them a sense of control: choices of what they want to eat, what they can wear, what they can play with, etc. Avoid power struggles and make small exceptions to your typical rules as necessary to avoid any big reactions. For example, if your child is begging for juice when you typically wouldn't give it to them, let them have some just for today to keep the interactions positive.
Teach your child what to say if they are overwhelmed: Practice specific phrases to use if they are feeling overwhelmed. If your child has difficulty communicating in day-to-day life, an event such as a Fourth of July party or fireworks will make it even more difficult for them to express their needs. Practice specific, short, and clear phrases for them to use in case they become upset. Phrases such as "This is too loud," or "I need a break," will be easy for them to say and will alert you that they need a break before they become too overwhelmed.