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Celebrating the Fourth of July with Children with Autism

aba therapy

The Fourth of July is a holiday marked by barbecues, fireworks, parades, and other family activities. But for children in general, especially those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), things like fireworks, smoke, and crowds may cause anxiety which could lead to meltdowns. 


Public events may be less accessible for families of children on the autism spectrum, and at Essential Speech and ABA Therapy, we want to empower you to help your child access as many reinforcing environments as possible.  


That said, families of children on the autism spectrum can navigate the holiday and create amazing traditions for a sensory-friendly day.


Understanding Common Struggles for Children with Autism

First, parents need to understand how common activities on the Fourth of July impact their children. Remember, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can respond to events differently than neurotypical kids. 


For those with higher-intensity sensory experiences, things like fireworks can cause avoidance of activities by children covering their ears, running, or engaging in behaviors that signify discomfort. Because of this, children who require more support must be closely observed during the holidays to avoid distress and ensure an amazing holiday experience. 


Tips to Enjoy the Fourth of July as a Family

Families can enjoy a holiday with proper planning and a little preparation to make sure their children are supported at these events. Below are six tips to help your child enjoy the Fourth of July:


Know Your Child’s Limits 

No one knows your child’s limits better than you! Pick an activity that your child enjoys and avoid over-stimulating events. If you do attend a loud parade, crowded party, or busy fireworks show, you can participate from a distance, watch at home, or support them to access those environments (e.g., noise-canceling headphones, fans, sunglasses, etc). 


Create a Routine 

Some children on the autism spectrum thrive on routines. Before a large event, like the Fourth of July, practice events that are similar to what you will be experiencing. For example, take them to a community event that is smaller to determine if they are ready for a loud/busy parade.


If they learn well from communicating, you could even look up images, and videos, or explain what to expect for the Fourth of July! Starting with a quiet video of fireworks, for example, and then observing their response may help you better predict which components of the holiday they may find reinforcing.


Bring Familiar Food and Drinks 

If you’re attending a pool party or barbeque on the fourth, your child may encounter unfamiliar foods. If your child has difficulty in trying new foods, bring familiar meals and snacks to the party for them to eat. This might include chicken nuggets, fruits, vegetables, or any other snack your child enjoys. You may already do this for events, but bringing a few extra snacks for peers their age could even facilitate a great social opportunity for your child as well. 


Create a Calm-Down Corner 

If you’re somewhere away from home, try and establish a calm-down corner for your child. Grab a blanket, chair, pillows, and any other comfort items while informing your group about the calm-down corner.


Finally, guide your child to a calm-down corner if they become overstimulated during the festivities. Oftentimes, children who aren’t on the autism spectrum may love this as well, and it could great social opportunity for your child to engage with their peers! 


Bring Distractions 

If the party or parade becomes too much for your child, bring their favorite toys to support them as you transition to another activity that they find more reinforcing. Distractions may include their tablet, headphones, toys, blankets, or anything else your child enjoys. Again, if your child loves a certain activity (e.g., hula-hooping, water table play, etc.), bringing this to a group activity could support social opportunities you may see otherwise.


Activities like patriotic slime, fireworks painting, or a 4th of July scavenger hunt allow you to create your traditions.


Have a Plan B

Always have a backup plan if the parties, parades, and fireworks overwhelm your child. Park your car close to the parade or fireworks in case you need to make a quick exit. Establish a sign with your family in case your child needs to leave quickly. In some cases, you and your child may be able to establish a safe word or hand signal that will let you know when to make a quick exit.


Summer Fun 

If you’re looking for a fun, communication-based activity for your little one, try our free Fourth of July Scavenger Hunt. Toddlers, kindergarteners, and school-aged children love scavenger hunts, as they encourage exploration and expressive language.


As a bonus, scavenger hunts help children with autism expand their vocabulary, particularly their expressive and receptive language.


Download our free Fourth of July Scavenger Hunt here:


Fourth of July Scavenger Hunt
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