Tips on how people on the Autism Spectrum can stay safe with Independence Day fast approaching
Independence Day is fast approaching in the United States, and that means the sure signs of American patriotism will be on full display. Families will be going to picnics and barbecues, fun will be had at the nearest lake or river and, to cap it all off at the end of the night, fireworks. But for people on the autism spectrum, fireworks may not be the most enjoyable activity. Many are sensitive to either light or sound which can make the fun fireworks displays torturous. But there are ways to still have fun with that special person with autism in your life.
Tips to Stay Safe
The group Behavioral Health Works offers seven tips to help children with autism enjoy fireworks. They include:
- Prepare your child
- Bring sunglasses or noise canceling headphones
- Watch from a distance
- Take deep breaths
- Bring distractions
- Safety first
- Focus on the fun
While the website is offering these suggestions for children with autism, many of these can be used for adults with autism as well. Not all of these tips will be necessary with each individual, but all can be very handy depending on the needs of that special person with autism in your life.
Prepare Your Child
Preparing your child for what to expect may be easier said than done. That is also true if the person is an adult with autism. It may be easy to say the words of what to expect, but there’s no guarantee the person will understand. From a personal perspective, my oldest son, Jeremy, loves fireworks but doesn’t like changes to his routine. It will be easy to tell him we’re going to see the fireworks, and we’re going to follow simple steps to make sure we have a fun time. In contrast, my younger son, Joey, doesn’t understand these simple principles. He loves lights but has struggled with sounds. Impromptu firework displays in our neighborhood have led to meltdowns because he wasn’t expecting the sounds, and the loud bangs scared him. But, when we finally took him to a fireworks show, we were able to visually demonstrate that he would see pretty lights in the distance across the lake. When it was all said and done, he had the biggest smile on his face, and we got to enjoy traditional Independence Day fireworks as a family for the first time.
Bring Sunglasses or Noise Canceling Headphones
This is one of those suggestions that truly depends on the person with autism in your life. Some people on the spectrum may be sensitive to light and need sunglasses to dim the glare and enjoy the fireworks. Others may be sensitive to sound, like Joey, and need noise canceling headphones to help them enjoy the show. (We have a set of headphones for Joey, but we were far enough away last Independence Day, he didn’t need them). Still, others may be sensitive to both and need both. Like everything else with autism, this is dependent on the individual. Just try your best, and keep that special person’s best interest at the front of your mind.
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Watch From a Distance
This can be vitally important depending on that person with autism in your life. When we decided to go to the fireworks show in July 2022, we weren’t sure how close or how far from the fireworks we would be. We found the nearest town that was having a show on the night we could go, and we packed up the car and went. When we arrived, we noticed the gathering was in a large parking lot across the street from a lake. This presented options for how we would watch the show. Still, we were guaranteed a distance. We walked to a patch of grass at the edge of a parking lot, and some nice people nearby let our boys climb into the bed of their pickup truck to watch the fireworks. We were far enough away that it didn’t bother Joey but still close enough to see everything very well. While we got lucky in this instance, most American fireworks shows try to set up in places where you can see from a distance. I prefer ones over bodies of water, but you can still enjoy one that’s over a field, just as long as you know how far back to be for your special person.
Take Deep Breaths
This is one that I haven’t really tried with my kids at fireworks shows because I haven’t had to use it. But, for some people with autism, it may be just what they need to help them enjoy the show. Deep breathing can help a person with autism relax. It’s an exercise we have tried with my older son when he’s been overwhelmed by other things, so I know it will work for him should he ever get overwhelmed at a fireworks show. Still, I definitely recommend anyone who needs this tactic to try it.
This is something we have to do for Joey, literally everywhere we go. His attention span isn’t that long, and he will start looking for other things that might get him into trouble if we don’t provide a distraction. We have fidgets, pop-its, blocks, and any other toy that he has shown an affinity for with us at all times. While waiting for the fireworks to start last summer, we used these to keep him occupied. Once the show started, he was engrossed in the lights from the fireworks display. Every so often, we had to hand him a pop-it or fidget, but he would play with them almost absentmindedly while still watching the show. I can attest to always bring distractions.
This is an obvious one. Always have a Plan B. The best laid plans don’t always come to fruition, and you need to be able to pivot on a dime. Last summer, my wife and I had decided that if it became too much for one of the kids, we would take them to the car and watch from there. For Joey, it would mean a quieter experience. For Jeremy, the only way I could see it becoming too much for him is the amount of people at a professional fireworks show. He doesn’t like crowds that are too large, so that has the possibility of becoming overwhelming. While we didn’t need Plan B that night, we always had one. You never know when you will have to change course to improve situations for that person with autism in your life.
Focus on the Fun
This one is easy. Smile! When that person with autism in your life sees you smiling, they will likely understand this is something happy, and they will have fun with it. When Joey sees his mother or me smiling and laughing, he starts smiling and laughing. He knows this is supposed to be fun, and as long as nothing is bothering him, he will enjoy it. While every person with autism is different, and the things they enjoy will be different, if they see you having fun, they’ll start having fun.
It took my wife and me seven years to take our kids to a professional fireworks show despite knowing our oldest son would probably enjoy it. Work schedules got in the way, but another major issue was our fear of how Joey would react. I’ll never forget the time we were at her parents’ house, and neighbors started shooting fireworks out of the blue. They weren’t far from the house, and Joey started running, screaming and crying. I had never seen him that scared in his short life. I was convinced he would never enjoy fireworks after that moment.
During the COVID restrictions of 2020, when no fireworks shows were scheduled, I watched a live stream of an older Independence Day fireworks show from the Disney parks on YouTube. I could adjust the sound accordingly, and Joey loved it. He sat there and watched the entire show. That’s when I knew there was a chance for him to enjoy fireworks, at least on a screen.
When my wife suggested we go to a fireworks show on the night before Independence Day 2022, I wasn’t sure what to think, but I was ready to try, and so was she. We had our Plan B. We had our distractions and our safe space. We were ready to go have fun as a family. Fear of autism and the reactions our kids might have had run too much of our lives, and we decided enough was enough. Now we know what to do so that our kids can have the typical, traditional, American summer fun.
If you know someone with autism who might like fireworks but might need some help, get them out to the fireworks shows and provide them with any help you can. They deserve to have the same fun as everyone else.