Tips for an Autism-Friendly Fourth of July

Tuesday, July 2, 2013 View Comments

Last year our Assistant Director for Dissemination Science Lauren Elder offered some advice about an autism-friendly Fourth of July. See her advice below and find holiday travel tips here.

“Our family loves the Fourth of July. But the noise and hubbub can produce sensory overload for our son who has autism. Advice?”

This week’s “Got Questions?” answer is from Autism Speaks Assistant Director for Dissemination Science Lauren Elder, PhD.

Your question is a great one. July 4th is a wonderful holiday to celebrate, but it’s also a noisy and busy one. This can present challenges for those on the spectrum.

For starters, I suggest thinking about what size of celebration is right for your family and child. It could be sparklers after a family backyard barbeque. Or maybe it’s going to town for full-out fireworks.

If you decide to attend a fireworks display – or even a big party – here are some tips to consider:

1. Prepare your child in advance.  Talk about what’s going to happen at the party or fireworks display. You can show him an Internet video of fireworks – perhaps playing it quietly first, then slowly turning up the volume. If your child responds to visual aids, you can create a story about the day with pictures or photos. Explain that there will be lots of people.

2. Focus on the fun! Tell your child why you enjoy fireworks or a holiday barbeque with friends. Let him see that you’re excited to attend. This will help him get excited too. Describe the activities you know he’ll enjoy, whether it’s seeing a friend or the ice cream cone he’ll get as a treat.

3. Bring along favorite items such as toys, games and snacks. This can provide a crucial distraction if your child gets antsy while waiting for activities to start.

4. Have a blanket, towel or chair for your son. Creating a defined space that’s “his own” can help a child with autism feel more comfortable in a crowd.

5. Consider bringing headphones to help block out excessive noise. As we all know, fireworks can pack a lot of sensory stimulation!  Also consider sitting some distance from the display – someplace you can still see the colorful explosions, but without the intense noise.

6. Make sure your child knows how to ask for a break from the crowd or noise. If your child is verbal, he may only need a reminder.  However, many children on the spectrum do best with a visual aid. For example, provide your child with a special card to hand to you when he needs a break from the stimulation.

7. Make sure safety is a priority. Check out “Stay Safe This July 4” from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Got more questions? Send them to GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org. Subscribe to Autism Speaks Science Digest for more autism research news, blogs and more, delivered biweekly to your inbox.