July 4th is an exciting day to celebrate in the United States, but how can we make this a successful day for our loved ones with autism and our sensory sensitive family members?
Here are a few tips we’ve picked up over the years having lived through some awesome and some terrible Independence Day Events. The key is to be preventative, but we understand that’s not always possible. Try your best and usually it all works out one way or another.
It’s typically hot in the beginning of July, with many states being over 100 degrees. While some people aren’t affected by the heat, my family members are. I watch my son get physically drained, he goes pale, and he sags into his chair without any energy. And once he crosses the point of no return, it’s hard to get him back. But there are things you can do so that no one in your party finds themselves sun sick (yes, you get physically and emotionally ill)!
Hydrate! We freeze water bottles on their side, so half is ice, and then fill the remainder with cold water. You can sip on this during the day to keep cool (holding a frozen steel bottle definitely keeps your temperature down). Do whatever you can to keep yourself and family hydrated, which will help to avoid sensory overload.
If you have someone who is sensitive to the heat, try to keep them indoors most the day (in air-conditioning), or keep them in the shade (whether it’s trees or your own tents!). Keeping them cool will help them stay regulated and prevent them from becoming over-heated. You can always put a cold, lightly wet washcloth on the back of their neck if they’re feeling too hot as well.
Even if your kids have been in the water, either swimming, or sticking their feet in the river, they will still be in the scorching sun and being sun zapped. Get them in the shade for breaks, even if you have to tempt them with some iPad time. Remember, prevent the sun from taking their energy or burning their skin. It’s a marathon day to the fireworks, and you have to pace yourself and your family.
Hats, sunglasses, and proper clothing is also a MUST in the heat.
Yes, we all know fireworks are loud. Some prefer to wear headphones during firework shows, and others can survive with their hands over their ears. But please remember that the celebrations themselves are often loud too. With large crowds, bands playing, parades, and picnics, July 4th is traditionally a loud holiday. We have missed many a celebration because my son didn’t even want to attempt the crowds and deal with the noise (and I’m okay with that!).
Sensory breaks can be helpful, whether they are indoors. in their bedroom having a reading break, or possibly just some alone time in the car listening to soothing music (even if you’ve parked far away). Or maybe a walk around the lake if you are outdoors. There are always options! We have found ourselves walking through a grocery store when my son needed to cool down and get away from the crowds (I know, a sensory nightmare can be a sensory friend when your kiddo is HOT and overwhelmed). And you may need more than one sensory break throughout the day, so try to be patient. Perhaps you and your spouse (or a family friend) can take turns with sensory breaks so that neither one of you miss too much of your special day. And never make your child feel bad for needing a some space!
STICKY AND YUCKY
Somehow I always get sticky on July 4th! It can be the humidity, or melted Popsicles, or rib sauce, or cotton candy, or the mandatory SUNSCREEN, but I always end up feeling like I need a shower. This can be hard on a sensory sensitive individual, so take note if they’re starting to obsessively wash their hands off, or seem to feel uncomfortable in their own skin.
I carry around wipes for such occasions if we’re out and about, but if you’re home, maybe a second shower or bath in the afternoon is not a bad idea. It’s a sensory break and it can be refreshing if your clothes have gotten sticky from sweat. Some people use baby powder or cornstarch to rub the sand and debris off their loved ones at the end of the day while still out in the park for festivities.
And nothing is better than some soft, comfy, fresh pajamas (or sweats) to put on before the fireworks to help your sensory sensitive loved one get more comfortable and renewed.
BEING OFF SCHEDULE
Usually on holidays all schedules go out the window, so people may get out of sorts. Their sleep, food intake, and down time is compromised and it’s hard on them physically and emotionally, which may result with disruptive behaviors like yelling or whining. Your child may need audio prompting or a visual schedule. Prepping for the activities you’re going to be doing can release some stress, like watching fireworks on a YouTube video and talking about what’s going to happen.
If your child has a really difficult time with schedule changes, try to keep them as comfortable as possible. Don’t skip meals, or naps (if needed), and maybe plan on joining festivities for a few hours instead of all day. Perhaps choose the family picnic celebration, and then watch fireworks on TV in the comfort of your own home. Or maybe pass on the all day flag football extravaganza and just show up for fireworks (always a plus if your partner can hold you some parking and a seat!) Honestly, I find all day holidays overwhelming for myself, so I don’t mind picking a portion of the day and attending just that amount, and negating the sensory holiday hangover that takes my body days to recover from.
Another trick I’ve found to be helpful is feeding my child BEFORE we get to the event, especially if I know there will be food there. That way he can snack and eat some of the treats, but he’s already full from protein and healthy foods so he can’t stuff as much junk in. This keeps his body on schedule, at least for a little while.
Be flexible. You get the idea. Don’t try to cram it all in on one day. Don’t let people who don’t get it pressure you into making choices that aren’t best for your family. They don’t have to deal with the sensory overload and meltdowns, YOU DO, so make your own rules and schedule. If they don’t support you, that’s their problem. You can thank me on July 5th (if you so desire:-)
DREADED SOCIAL ASPECT
If your loved one can’t tolerate birthday parties or concerts, chances are the Independence day gatherings may be a challenge. There can be lots of sports and rough housing that sensitive kiddos don’t want to take part in, and my son used to get really upset when a lot of people were coming towards him.
Being social can be stressful and take a lot of energy. Even family gatherings are tough on a lot of people, especially those that do better in more one-on-one situations. It can be hard to keep up with the bouncing around of conversations and the constant interaction, and the plethora of social rules! Again, sensory breaks are probably the best way to avoid your loved one from becoming too overwhelmed.
Be prepared to create some much needed alone time. Maybe find your own picnic bench or a shady tree to sit under. Bring headphones if your child likes to listen to music or the iPad. Make these sensory breaks fun and relaxing and don’t try to rush them. Bring your own book or a camera to snap photos while your sensory sensitive one chills.
If your child needs more strenuous activity to call down, bring your mini-trampoline! Or have your own mini-boot camp in the park with crab walks and push ups. Make the sensory breaks suitable to your kiddo. You’ll see that the others may need sensory breaks too! We ALL do.
Do you have any tips for July 4th and Autism? What about July 4th and Sensory Overload? I’m always happy when people share their experiences and what works for them and their families! Quite frankly, I’ve found most people need sensory breaks, but those of us with children on the autism spectrum seem to be more aware of these needs. Maybe its all the therapy we seek, or maybe our kiddos have made us more sensitive to other people’s and our own needs. Whatever the case, everyone will benefit from you keeping YOU happy, as well as your kiddos. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday!