Fun for All: Autistic-Friendly Considerations for Celebrating the 4th of July

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autistic friendly 4th of july

The 4th of July is a favorite summer holiday for many. Summer weather, grilling season, festivals, and fireworks can make it a memorable time of year. On the contrary, it can be challenging for others. Autistic children and adults may find the holiday especially stressful with big crowds, loud fireworks, and general unpredictability. With some preparation, 4th of July festivities can be inclusive and welcoming to all. Here are some ideas to help reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding the holiday for those with autism, ensuring that fun can be had by all.

Plan Ahead and Foreshadow

The Autistic neurology thrives on routine and predictability. If your 4th of July holiday will be different from your family’s typical routine, you can help alleviate anxiety by sharing as many details about what to expect as possible.  Below are some examples of details to consider discussing prior to the holiday. If your child is a visual thinker consider sharing these details visually through pictures or written language. Consider developing a social narrative, or download ours below.

  • Schedule of the day (consider crossing items off when done)
  • Foreshadow known changes from past year’s traditions 
  • Highlight what routines or preferred activities will be the same
  • If you’ll have to wait in line 
  • Transportation – how you’ll get somewhere
  • Photos/lists of places you’ll go
  • Names/photos of the people you will see

Remember That Fun is Subjective

Each person is unique with different ideas of what is fun. We often want to share fun experiences with the people we love and we can feel hurt if they don’t love something as much as we do. But remember that each person has their own idea of what is fun, and that includes their own way of expressing enjoyment. If you’re a parent or family member of an autistic person, manage your own expectations of how your autistic child or family member is expected to participate in holiday celebrations. Make sure they have access to activities they find fun and accept the ways that their joy is expressed. 

For anyone that finds scavenger hunts fun, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a Fourth of July scavenger hunt to print and bring along. Bonus points for counting how many of each item you see! Take a picture of your scavenger hunt and tag us on social media to share your experience and see other families who are doing the same! 

Click to download

Safety First, Always in All Ways

safety

In addition to explaining what will happen, a review of safety rules can help reduce anxiety for all. Practicing safe crossing the street behavior, designating a safe space at the barbeque or fireworks display, waving a flag instead of a sparkler, or planning for other safety measures important for your child prior to the big day can also help the family remain safe and focus on the fun!

Prepare for the Sensory Experience

Each person with autism (and without) experiences the world through their senses differently. Use the knowledge you’ve gained about your loved one through past experiences and what they communicate about sensory challenges to prepare for the holiday. If a person’s senses are overwhelmed, they won’t be able to enjoy an activity, so preparing for the sensory experience is critical. Communicate with your child about what to expect, and what strategies or sensory-tools they’ll have access to if they begin to feel overwhelmed.

 

STRESSOR CONSIDER
Noise Noise-cancelling headphones or access to preferred sounds/replacement sounds, and comfort items (if sounds trigger proprioceptive difficulty, have a weighted toy, lap pad, or blanket along, or give deep pressure during the fireworks display). 
Food Bring along comfort food that your child regularly enjoys. Trying new foods is most successful in non-stressful situations, or when a person has expressed interest in trying something new.
Bright lights Bringing sunglasses, or access to a preferred visual input to help focus.
Physical Crowding If able, have a member of your group arrive early to reserve a space on the edge of the crowd. Bring along a blanket to allow a wide berth of personal space and to give others a visual boundary. 
Visual Crowding Consider bringing along items that provide preferred visual input for the person to focus their attention on.
Prolonged sitting, standing, waiting  Consider bringing favorite sensory fidgets and preferred items. 

 

*Note: some children are soothed by light-up toys and sparklers, and when these items are sold but are not available to a child, they may have trouble coping. If an overpriced event toy isn’t in your budget, plan ahead and grab some glow-sticks to create your own regulated fun!

Unfamiliar Surroundings In unfamiliar surroundings, it can be more difficult to tune into our own body’s signals. Take frequent bathroom breaks, and offer food/snacks regularly to ensure that the physical body is taken care of.
Sensory Overstimulation Know signs of sensory overstimulation. Identify a “go-to” space for a sensory break, whether that is a place to walk, spin, and jump freely, or a place to get quiet, dark, alone time. 

Communication Preparation

communication

Having supportive plans to help your child communicate can set the stage for success.  Does you child need an exit strategy?  Do they have a way to request a break from the loud noises and new smells?  Some children benefit from planned check ins and reminders, others do best with visual supports.

Create Your Own Traditions

Read our visually supported narrative that describes the who, what, where, when, and why of Independence Day, and review traditional ways to celebrate. If the traditional ways of celebrating the fourth of July don’t resonate with you, your child or your family, talk about ways to celebrate Independence Day or show patriotism that would mean the most to you. Together you can create your own traditions. Check out this resource from our friends at the Autism Society of MN to learn more about creating your own autism-strong-family-traditions.

Click to download
Ways to Celebrate the 4th of July
Click to download

Prepare Emotional Regulation Strategies That Can be used at Events & Parties

Communicate with your child about if and how they’d like assistance if starting to feel dysregulated. Make sure your child is well-regulated before heading out to a party, festival or other event, and has access to the tools and the space needed to maintain or regain regulation throughout the course of the celebrations. 

Rely on Your Expertise

family

Remember, you are an expert when it comes to your child! The traditions and summer celebrations look different for all families. For some children, less is truly more. For others, bring on the firecrackers and the red, white and blue! The goal is for your child and family to have fun and be successful. Trust your instincts and enjoy your time together, whatever that may look like for you!

This blog and toolkit was developed in partnership with our Autism Friendly Communities Program.

SymbolStix symbol supports used with permission from n2y LLC. 

We would love to hear to hear your feedback or ideas for future topics or toolkits! Send feedback to info@autismgreaterwi.org.

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