4th of July for Kids on the Spectrum

For a child on the spectrum, loud sounds and bright lights or colors can be a serious challenge. On the 4th of July, this challenge can turn a day of celebration into a day of struggle. This sensory sensitivity that many children with autism experience is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If your child has SPD, here are a few ways you can help your little one through the sensory overload from a day of fireworks, parades, and picnics.

1. Prepare your child.
Setting expectations and sharing details of the day to come can be a big relief for children on the spectrum. Predictability and routine are tools for success, so have a conversation about what to expect. You might even show a smaller version of what’s to come using a video or picture book. When talking about what to expect, avoid warning your child about what’s coming, so you don’t accidentally create anxiety before the actual event. Instead, keep things positive and show your own excitement for the upcoming day.

2. Mitigate the sensations.
While it’s nearly impossible to fully avoid the booming fireworks on the 4th of July, parents can lessen the noise with a little preparation. Noise-cancelling headphones or colorful earplugs can be a great way to dampen the noise to a tolerable level. If you think the bright lights of sparklers or fireworks may prove challenging, bring a pair of sunglasses along so your kid can look like a rock star wearing sunglasses at night!

3. Bring tangible items of comfort.
A 4th of July picnic or parade can be a lot of fun, but it may feel like a complete overload for a child with SPD. To make the parade or picnic feel more familiar, bring along objects of comfort like a stuffed animal, blanket, or even a fidget toy that your child can cling to if the day becomes overwhelming.

4. Make a focused action plan.
Having a goal or a plan for the day can help children on the spectrum feel grounded during a busy day of festivities. Pick a goal like counting how many fireworks they hear or finding as many different colors throughout the day. You may also want to create a visual schedule to help your child know what is coming and when.

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