Independence Day. It’s the time for celebratory fireworks, family barbecues, pool parties and parades — past-times that most Americans anticipate with pleasure. Yet for children with sensory integration disorders and their parents, the loud noises, bright lights, strong odors, hot temperatures and big crowds associated with these activities may instead create feelings of anxiety, fear or even dread. If you’re a parent facing the Fourth of July holiday with trepidation, here are some suggestions for a stress-free celebration.
Prep your child
If you intend to take part in Fourth of July activities, make sure your child knows what to expect. You can prepare a social story about the holiday and read books that tell the story of Independence Day. If you’re attending a social event, tell your child what foods will be served and let him know who is likely to be there. Role-play social situations so your child is prepared to greet other guests and initiate play with other children at the event. If you’ll be attending a parade, try to find out about what floats, musicians and costumed characters will be part of the festivities so your child is prepared for who and what he will see and hear there.
Prepare your hosts
If you’re visiting friends or family, let them know what will work best for your child. Tell them about her sensitivities, favorite foods and find out if there’s a place in the house to where she can retreat if she runs out of steam and needs to decompress. Though it can seem daunting to share your child’s challenges with people outside the immediate family, those who care for you will likely be receptive and happy to help.
Pack a bag
Take along some easy-to-transport toys, sunscreen, sunhats, snacks, rain-gear and a sweatshirt in case of inclement weather. Pack some favorite books and DVDs if you suspect that your child will need time alone.
Be fireworks savvy
If you intend to watch fireworks, bring along noise canceling headphones and a weighted vest or blanket to help your child feel calm and comforted. Consider watching the fireworks from a window or on TV with the sound turned down. That way, children can enjoy the brilliant lights and colors of the fireworks, without the noise. Some children are drawn to the sound and spectacle of fireworks. Be sure to teach your child fireworks safety precautions.
Wait till next year
If after considering all the options, you determine that it’s just too stressful to venture out on the Fourth of July, give yourself and your child a break. Stay home, have a family game or movie night, eat good food and relax. Perhaps next year, your child will be ready to join the Fourth of July festivities.