The 4th of July, Independence Day in the U.S., ought to simply be a fun celebration of America, freedom, and community, but for a child with sensory issues, it can be an especially challenging holiday. There are unexpected foods, events, sounds, and breaks in routine—and plenty of crowds. Here are some tips that will help you make it more fun than challenging.
* Talk to your child about the day’s plans. You might use drawings or photos as part of a visual To Do list, also known as a picture To Do list. For instance, you can write out the time you will be eating breakfast, next to a photo of his typical breakfast food, and follow that with a photo of his bike if the next thing on your agenda will be decorating his bike for the local parade, and so on. A visual image of the parade route will help him to understand what is happening and where, and in what sequence. Even older children may want to see where you will have the picnic, and know what the sequence of events is. Routine and predictability prevent and reduce anxiety.
Sensory kids can enjoy the 4th of July more easily if you use these helpful tips!
* Bring sunscreen, sun hats, and other sun protection. Reapply sunscreen often, according to the directions on the label.
* Pre-fireworks calming ritual. Before a sensory intense experience like fireworks viewing, consider having her do heavy work, giving her a massage or gentle squeezing of limbs, listening to music she enjoys, and providing her with calming smells (such as a vial of essential oils she can sniff).
* Making a game of predicting fireworks helps ease anxiety. When watching fireworks, encourage your child to try to guess at when the firework will explode into color from the time it is launched. Count the seconds. This little game can help them feel a sense of predictability before they hear the boom and are stimulated by the spray of sparks in the sky. Try to guess what type of firework it will be, and what color.
* Location, location, location. If you’re going to watch fireworks, consider finding a spot where you can see them but don’t have to hear them. You might watch on TV or from inside a building, looking out a window. You could sit on a pier or in a boat far from where the fireworks are launched, viewing from a quiet distance. If you’re going to be with a crowd of people, make sure you are on the edge of the crowd and can get away quickly if your child feels uncomfortable. Quiet, calming spaces such as private bathrooms or a car that you can retreat to with her if the stimulation gets to be too much can really help.
* Have snacks. Don’t forget to bring favorite snacks or food if your child with sensory issues hates the smell, taste, and texture of barbecue, grilled vegetables, or whatever else you are cooking and serving. A juice box or milk box with small straw can provide comforting sensory input.
* Hydrate. Encourage your child to drink water! If she prefers it at room temperature, in a cup with a straw, then provide that to be sure she doesn’t forget to drink up. And again, think about those juice or milk boxes!
* Check the bathroom situation. If you’re going to be out and about, know where the non-smelly, non-noisy bathrooms are. Portable bathrooms can be extremely stressful for sensory kids. Noisy hand dryers and self-flush toilets can be scary and distressing. Bring a pad of little sticky notes to place over the electric eye in a public toilet. Go ahead and ask others if they can wait before the using the hand dryer so your child can exit the bathroom before it roars, or ask a store owner if your very noise-sensitive child can use her bathroom
* Provide noise protection. Earplugs and noise reducing headphones can help your child tolerate the fireworks.
* Careful with fireworks! Be cautious using any type of firework, smoke bomb, sparkler, and so on. They are illegal in many communities for good reasons. Be extra cautious with your sensory child who may become overstimulated by them and ignore safety rules you’ve established.
Have a safe and happy Independence Day! And remember, for more practical advice on helping your child with sensory processing issues, check out Raising a Sensory Smart Child.