As South Jersey families celebrate Fourth of July with fireworks, parades and outdoor concerts, one local school principal and Board Certified Behavior Analyst shares tips for parents with sensory-sensitive children
Contributor: Elizabeth Fuzy, M.Ed., BCaBA, Principal The Bancroft School Early Education Program
Monday, June 20, 2016
Do you remember celebrating Fourth of July as a young child? The fireworks! The parades! The honking, blinking firetrucks! The late-night cookouts and ice cream parties in friends’ backyards! Certainly, the star-spangled holiday is a right of childhood passage, and an exciting time for little ones.
But for children with autism and other sensory sensitivities and their families, Independence Day – and most summer celebrations – can present an entire set of unforeseen challenges.
As Principal of The Bancroft School’s Early Education Program and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, I work directly with young children with autism and other sensory-processing disorders. In the classroom, we work together with families to establish holiday activities and traditions everyone can enjoy, and I encourage parents to continue this effort during the summer months.
Keep the below tips in mind this week and throughout the summer to encourage everyone in the family to celebrate together.
Plan, prepare and practice: If a child is old enough to understand, I advise parents to make a plan a few weeks in advance. If you’re planning to attend outdoor fireworks, mark the date on a family calendar with a sticker or photo, and reference it often. Prepare a sensory-sensitive child with conversation about fireworks, large crowds, and unfamiliar noises and lights and express how much fun the whole family will have together. Finally, practice how you’ll attend the event – take a drive to the park or field and allow your child to become comfortable with the space prior to the big fireworks show.
Pack comfort items: If a child normally uses noise-canceling headphones, he or she will certainly need them during a loud celebration. I recommend parents bring a pair along, even if a child doesn’t normally require them. Same goes for additional comfort items such as blankets, toys or favorite snacks. Familiar, comforting items can provide a child immense peace of mind during an new experience.
Assign tasks: Prior to a summer celebration, give everyone a fun job to complete. Ensure a sensory-sensitive child has a manageable task, such as handing out snacks to his siblings, to give him a sense of calm and control during an unfamiliar event. Practice everyone’s jobs before a celebration and even the most sensitive children can get into the excitement.
Have an exit strategy: Parents of children with autism always expect the unexpected. Even after carefully preparing the entire family for a noisy celebration, a child with a disability can still become frightened and overwhelmed, and that’s OK. I recommend parents try to find a nearby parking spot, so a child can escape for some quiet time if needed.
Fourth of July celebrations shouldn’t become a source of stress for families with a child with autism. In fact, armed with the right tips and tricks, kids of all ages and abilities can make the most out of this season’s festive holidays.
At The Bancroft School, students ages 3 through 21 have access to a robust suite of services and an interdisciplinary educational and therapeutic team including faculty, physical, occupational, speech and sensory therapists.
For more information about autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities and to inquire about enrollment at The Bancroft School and other programs, call 1-800-774-5516.