Tips for Celebrating the Fourth of July with a Child with Autism

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Scott Center

Creating a Celebration the Whole Family Can Enjoy

The Fourth of July is supposed to be a fun-filled family celebration, but the fireworks, parades and crowds can be challenging for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When making your Independence Day plans, whether it’s a quiet celebration at home, a small family barbecue, a downtown parade or a massive community fireworks bonanza, choose an activity you believe your child can enjoy and then consider what might help to make that a reality. Families who plan ahead and are adaptable are more likely to create joyful holiday traditions.

Lay the Groundwork: Whatever your plans, talk to your child ahead of time about what to expect. Let them know if there will be loud noises, lots of people, or a change in routine. If your child responds to visual aids, you can use photos to create a story that illustrates the activities you’ll be doing that day. Consider watching a video of fireworks while gradually turning up the volume. Or demonstrate how loud fireworks could be by clapping together pots and pans.

Focus on Fun: Share with your child why you are excited to celebrate Independence Day. Talk about what you enjoy about fireworks, why parades are fun to watch, or why you are looking forward to the backyard barbecue.

Empower Your Child: Make sure you child knows how to ask for a break during the celebration, whether by telling you directly or using a code word or gesture. Where appropriate, give your child some control over the day. You might let your child choose whether to go or stay home. Or let your child decide what clothes are most comfortable to wear that day. At the event, you could have your child choose where to sit. Giving your child a job to do—like taking photos, serving food, or refilling drinks—can provide a feeling of control over something in an otherwise unfamiliar situation.

Bring Backup: Don’t forget to pack items that help soothe or distract your autistic child, like a special toy, a squeeze ball or a favorite snack. Bring a blanket, a chair or even a small popup tent to create a space for your child where strangers won’t intrude. Noise-canceling headphones or dark sunglasses could help minimize loud noises or bright lights.

Have an Exit Strategy: Sometimes even the most thoughtful planning isn’t enough. If the festivities turn out to be more than your child on the ASD spectrum can handle, make sure to have an escape route picked out. Be flexible and have a backup plan. For example, if the noise and activity of a community fireworks display are too much, consider watching from farther away in your car.

Family First Above All: No matter your plans, make the primary focus of your celebration one of family togetherness. Encourage everyone to be flexible and to understand that, regardless of what happens, as long as your family is spending time together then the day is a success. If your family ends up staying home away from crowds and noise, you can enjoy making your own indoor fireworks with confetti or tissue paper, or watching fireworks on TV while everyone snuggles on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn. Find what works for your family and have fun on the Fourth!

For more holiday tips, visit TheScottCenter.org and watch our video tips on AutismAdvisor.org.