Independence Day is meant to be a day of fun and celebration. It’s generally warm and sunny outside. There are colorful parades and magnificent fireworks. This is all great. However, it can be a nightmare for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder especially if they have sensory sensitivities.
Today we’re going to go through the possible sensory pitfalls of the 4th of July and discuss some solutions. Any change in routine requires preparation. Before attempting any of the festivities give someone with autism a choice as to what they want to do, and respect that choice. Once activities are decided, go over how the holiday will affect their regular schedule. Also plan together how to leave an activity early if it becomes too much to handle. As the day approaches they will need reminders that a schedule change is coming.
Please share how you deal with sensory sensitivity.
Here are 3 things to look out for on the holiday.
It may be too hot. Remember that your friend with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome may not recognize symptoms of their discomfort, even as their discomfort approaches a health risk. They may need to rely on your judgment to stay healthy. On the other end of the sensory spectrum are those who feel extra sensitive and may react strongly to what you perceive as a comfortable temperature. Even if you feel ok, a person that has ASD may have a different comfort range. Be vigilant of any behavior changes, repetitive requests for water or asking to leave. This may indicate overheating.
What you can do:
Before you go outside in the heat, include a cooling pack to rest on the back of the neck. It will help with keeping cool. Bring cool water to drink, a fan and/or a squirt bottle. If possible find a spot outdoors with close access to shade or an air-conditioned building.
Parades can be crowded. People may push and shove in order to see what’s coming and to grab the candy that is sometimes tossed from the parade floats. Also, the flying candy can hurt. Another sensory difficulty with parades is the sound. Many parades include fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, all using their sirens. This can be extremely loud and may physically hurt a sensitive person’s ears.
What you can do:
First, let’s deal with the crowded aspect. If you can, try to stake out your own space. In order to do this, you may need to stay further back from the street. However, it is more difficult to see the parade from the back. Another option is to watch through a window of a building on the parade route. Watching from inside a building can also help with the noise.
In dealing with the noise, ear plugs, or headphones can be helpful.
If the thought of the crowds and noise is too much for a sensory sensitive Aspie or autistic person there is always the option of watching a parade on T.V. Then you have both crowd control and volume control!
Fireworks are beautiful, however, they are accompanied by an extremely loud bang, in the case of the grand finale, there are many loud explosions in quick succession. These noises aren’t predictable and sometimes seems to happen just when you think everything is done. If you are experiencing the fireworks outside, insect bites can be an added sensory issue.
What you can do:
Again, earplugs and headphones work wonders. Another option is a compression shirt or a weighted blanket. These items will help someone who is anxious around fireworks feel a bit calmer. Regarding bug bites, bug spray is an option. However what I wanted to acknowledge here was the possibility of an extreme reaction to an insect bite. This is another area where the bite may seem trivial, but in the individual with ASD’s case, it is extremely irritating and difficult to ignore.
If I can leave you with one thought it is this: please be compassionate. The experience of someone with sensory sensitivities is completely different than yours and may be much more painful than you can imagine.
Happy Independence Day U.S.A!
Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need help creating positive strategies? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.