Thursday 5 November 2015

Preparing for fireworks with our autistic kids

Loud noises, bright contrasts, sudden changes of direction and usually lots and lots of people.  While being in an unfamiliar place, open to the elements and in the dark.  None of this bodes well for our family with autism as we approach Fireworks night. Here are our do and don't ideas for coping.

Do set the scene - let's make sure the kids know what we are doing. We can use Makaton or visual pictures of fireworks and point and label them when we see or hear them in other places.  Go to a 'late' display, one that's towards the end of the week. This gives opportunities to see and hear fireworks just days before the actual event.  Our eldest is also helped by knowing what day and time when he can expect to see them. If it's possible visit the site of the display a few evenings before.  It won't look the same but at least the route/place may be more familiar. Doing this prior to the night gives our family the chance to process what fireworks are before experiencing them on the night.

Do prepare for coping with sensory overloads - Every child is different, and every child with autism is different. Loud noises can be reduced by ear defenders and you can get some good ones for kids.  Other children may prefer a 'blocking out' noise.  Headphones playing favourite songs might help.  Our younger with ASD, David, will hold the IPad to his ear.  This blocks out the noise of not only the fireworks but all the babbling people. Anthony's comment that inspired this blog's title "Rainbows are too beautiful. I just can't look at them." relates to visual overload.  Individuals with autism often experience senses differently.  Anthony could wear a skipped hat, so he could easily block out some of the fireworks sights if it becomes too much for him.  You don't have to be close to enjoy the fireworks - we watch from a distance.

Do prepare for stress - Take with you whatever relieves stress for your child, a chew toy, a fiddle toy or a large variety of snacks.  Make the experience as comfortable and stress free as possible.

Don't forget safety - Some kids may be able to take in a simple safety briefing. We can use simple PECS cards with crosses on them about what not to do.  If we were to take David outside, it would have to be in a buggy as we couldn't risk him running away in the dark or in a crowd of people.

Don't create pressure - We never worry about leaving somewhere if it's not working for us. Despite the time and thought gone into preparing and getting to the fireworks display, there is no pressure for the kids to have to deal with it or wait it out.

What does this mean for us? A few things.  For the last few nights I've been pointing out fireworks when we've been near displays or heard them outside the home.  I've talked to David about the fireworks display picture he made at school. We've let Anthony know we can go to a fireworks display tomorrow.  We have decided to try to go to a display Anthony has seen before. We will be taking Anthony's ear defenders, and at least one if not two full charged IPads for David. We will aim to get there a little early. We will have a large box of flapjacks in the car.  Did I mention the car? We will most likely be watching from a parked car.  When we bought our car, little did we realise how useful the panoramic glass roof would be for watching Fireworks.

And after all the planning if we don't get there, we leave after a while or stay till the end of the display, we know we've given the kids the opportunity to see the Fireworks if they would like to.  We can always go home and watch fireworks or something else on the television instead. 

External Links
NAS - The Sensory world of Autism
Makaton - Fireworks symbols and signs
Communication Matters - PECS

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