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Autism Ears, Loud Noises and Fireworks! – Oh, My!

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Many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have trouble regulating the sensory information that bombards them on a daily basis. Children on the Autism spectrum may be overly sensitive or under-responsive to sounds and they may have difficulty interpreting the sensory information their brain receives. This leaves many parents at a loss about what to do for their child to help him or her live in a loud world without anxiety and fear.

Every single human being processes sensory input differently – in that way we are all the same. But when sensitivity to noise becomes an obstacle to a person’s typical daily functioning, development, social life and behavior, it is known as a sensory processing disorder. Many children with ‘Autism ears’ are over-responsive to noise and experience heightened reactions to sudden snaps, crackles or pops, especially fireworks.

As the 4th of July approaches and festivities begin, both you and your child need to be prepared for the possibility of various sudden and extremely loud noises triggering a meltdown.  As a parent of a child who cowers, flinches or dissolves into tantrum or shutdown mode at the sound of loud noises you do have the power to control your environment. Knowing what you know about your child you can always make a decision not to attend the fireworks extravaganza held in your town.

Unfortunately, you cannot always control how your neighbors might decide to celebrate the 4th of July, especially if you live in a state where fireworks are legal.

I know you can’t always predict everything in your environment but as a parent of a child with Autism here are some suggestions to consider when it comes to the ritual of Independence Day firework displays.

  • Prepare your child. If your child is old enough, take the time to explain the significance of this holiday and the rituals that accompany it. Letting your child know in advance what might happen and discussing what you both can do in advance will give your child some sense of control and help reduce his level of anxiety.
  • Write a social story. If your child is young, a social story will work really well to prepare her for any event that might be stressful. The Gray Center is a wonderful resource for learning how to write your own social story on any topic.
  •  Cover your child’s ears. Yes you can always use your hands to cup your child’s ears but that is not always practical. Be prepared for anything this holiday and carry a pair of earplugs or noise cancelling headphones with you whenever you venture from home especially in the evening. There are some parents who are even able to take their hearing sensitive child to a fireworks display with the use of a quality headphone.
  • Encourage deep breathing before and during the event. ALL children need to learn self-calming techniques to cope with life events – present or future. Children are never too young to be introduced to proactive steps they can take to regulate their reactions to things or events that might cause anxiety. Teaching a child how to breathe deeply helps supply oxygen to their body and brain to help them function more efficiently as well as relax their muscles.
  • Give a demonstration. Find a movie or video to watch about fireworks. Watching it on a screen allows you to control the volume. Start with the volume on low and gradually increase it just a bit above your child’s tolerance level. This is called gradual desensitization and is a good way to help your child become more comfortable with things that are difficult.  You can also try to go live starting with small popping noises and adding sparklers for the visual effect in your own backyard.
  • Explore digital resources. – A free interactive app, Fireworks 123,  is now available. It provides a child with immediate feedback by showing a visual representation of the firework choices made while developing an understanding of descriptive concepts such as number, size, and color in a fun and entertaining way. Also available via iTunes is a $.99 app, Fireworks Blast-Off  that allows the user total control over their own fireworks display. Unfortunately, these programs are great at simulating actual sound but not at the intense level you would find at a real fireworks display but they can serve as a good introduction.
  • Have plan B. If you decide to try a live fireworks event be prepared to bail out at any time. Despite the fact that you spent time preparing your child and have a pair of headphones available, things may not work out as planned. Keep this in mind when parking the car so you can have an easy escape.
  • Seek out alternatives. For those of you who decide going to the fireworks is not worth the effort but your child still shows some interest in fireworks, look for a sensory friendly fireworks display. Hartford, CT hosted such a show last year and other municipalities may be doing the same this year so keep your eyes and ears open for such an event in your area.

Wishing you all a calm, happy and safe 4th of July!

Have any ideas of your own to add? I would love to hear them. Sharing ideas that work for you can help other parents who are new at this so please take the time to leave a comment below if you do.

Comments

  1. P.G. "Dad of Autistic Twin Boys" says:

    Hi! Fireworks/July 4th brings a great deal of anxiety to our home. One of my sons does not like the “sound of fireworks”////…This is what works for him (SOMETIMES)…Headphones, Ear plugs, We live in Florida (so I put up the Hurricane Shutters for two days on his windows, and a lot of reassurance that the fireworks will be over before 11 PM.
    THE BIGGEST PROBLEM is not July 4th, But NEW YEARS EVE..>FIREWORKS DON’t even start until MIDNIGHT…Which wakes our son up and it is just really a bad night….You would think by now that after 12:30 fireworks should be banned. We live through all the BOOMS and he ends up sleeping in our bed or watches TV with all of his comforts mentioned above. Thanks Connie for your website and dedication to the Autism World.

  2. Connie says:

    Thank you for the input P.G. and I am glad something works for your son at least some of the time.
    I also learned something new from you and I want to thank you for it. I never thought of fireworks being an issue on New Year’s. Growing up in the northeast, I have never seen any New Year’s fireworks or heard of any firework events in the winter. I am sure they do exist at that time of year but I should not make the assumption they don’t happen based on my personal experience. I appreciate the reminder that we always need to expand our thinking beyond our own personal experience with the world.

  3. victoria t francisco says:

    HI Connie! Me & P.G. are in the same boat. I live in the Phils and pre & post fireworks for New Year happens here. There is no strict laws regarding fireworks here. This creates tension in the house. My son is 13 years old and covers his ears once he hears fireworks he starts saying his litany: cover ears, cover ears until the fireworks subside. What we do is to move out of the house every New Years Eve. This year we are planning to go to Tagaytay (uphill) beside a nuns convent hoping there would be less or no fireworks on New Years Eve. Thank you for your article on fireworks. Its my first time to see your website & I will support you all the way.

  4. Connie says:

    Victoria – I think your plan to go near the convent is a good one – I don’t know too many nuns who set off fireworks : ) It is too bad that you have to disrupt your life because of fireworks but you are a good parent to make the effort. If you have a recording device you may want to consider recording some of the fireworks – then you could let your son play back the fireworks at a very low volume, one he can tolerate, then he can increase the volume at his pace until it becomes as loud as he can stand it. This is a great way to desensitize a child to fireworks because he is in control. For some children this has worked to help them eventually tolerate the actual noise. It may take a while but maybe by next New Year’s things could be different?
    I am so glad you found my website and I hope you take advantage of all the free resources I offer. I wish you and your family the best for the coming new year.

  5. Gloria Obando says:

    Where I live at, the neighbors always buy fireworks and do a small fireworks display in front of my house and my son always covers his ears, but loves to see them because of the colors…when it starts to get really loud esoecially towards the end, he goes inside the house and watches it there…

  6. Connie says:

    That is great that he is able to control his environment and know his limits. Maybe his capacity to expose himself to sound increases each time he watches but he also might enjoy the event more and be able to stay outside longer with noise canceling headphones (you can always gradually decrease their use). You need to determine what is most important – learning to cope with reality or making the event sensory friendly/more enjoyable? It all depends on your child and the vision you have for him to become the person you want him to be. Enjoy the 4th, whatever you decide.

  7. Raksub says:

    I love to help autistic children and thanx for you advice connie

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