PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lots of people love fireworks on the Fourth of July. But, for children with autism or other sensory sensitivities, it can be overwhelming.
Meeting Street Occupational Therapist Emily Lennon shared tips on how parents and caregivers of children with sensory sensitivities can prepare their children ahead of time.
Lennon suggests showing the child videos of fireworks displays prior to the holiday, and telling them a story about what will happen throughout the day and during the fireworks so they know what to expect.
Right before the fireworks, Lennon said children can try staying active with tasks such as wheelbarrow walking or playing tug of war. This will help them to better handle the excitement and possible stress. On the other hand, if the day was hectic, she said it might be helpful for the child to relax prior to the fireworks.
Parents who have children sensitive to noise should watch fireworks from a distance to avoid loud noises and large crowds. They should also try to have the child wear noise-canceling headphones or use earbuds to listen to their own music during the fireworks.
It could be helpful to have the child choose a certain color and count how many times it appears during the fireworks display. Lennon said saying the color after it appears can help the child focus less on the sound of the fireworks.
For children who are sensitive to visual input, Lennon said it could be helpful to have them wear sunglasses while watching the fireworks and to stay away from the crowd to decrease visual stimulation.
She said children sensitive to touch should sit on a blanket rather than the bare ground. They should also sit away from the crowd in order to avoid bumping into others.
During the celebration, Lennon said parents can calm their children by helping them engage in another sense. This includes giving them items such as fidget spinners, stress balls, or clay to distract them. She said deep pressure can also help to calm children with sensitivities. For example, the child can sit between two people, or parents can wrap a blanket tightly around the child.
Parents should be prepared with drinks, snacks, and a jacket to ensure that their child is comfortable during the fireworks. She said it is important to know the best way to remove the child from the event if they become overstimulated.
If going out to watch the fireworks could be too much for the child, Lennon said it might be best to watch them from home on TV without sound. She said families who live near fireworks displays should try to block out the loud noises by playing music or running the air conditioner.