With crowds, barbecues and fireworks, the Fourth of July can be overwhelming for some individuals on the autism spectrum. However, the following information can help your loved one or friend with ASD have an enjoyable and comfortable holiday.
- Use social stories or visuals to prepare him/her for a party. This is best done a few days in advance so he/she will be as comfortable as possible. It also helps to prepare a list of guests’ names and faces beforehand, so that he/she can become familiar with who is coming to the event.
- Bright and loud, fireworks can be overwhelming for people with ASD. Provide him/her with a way to dampen the sound – headphones, for example. Note that not every person with ASD dislikes fireworks, but plan for the most difficult scenario.
- A picnic or barbecue will present him/her with new sights, sounds and smells, so it may help if he/she is provided with familiar food and drink.
- Make sure he/she has an item from home, such as a magazine or favorite toy, which can provide a distraction in stressful situations.
- If the situation becomes too intense – during fireworks, for example – he/she may need to leave. Coordinate an escape route and make plans for possible contingencies.
- Holding a small cookout the week before the real thing can be great practice for the Fourth.
- Individuals with ASD can be fearless, and fire can be a hazard to them. Keep an eye on him/her in order to avoid accidents around grills, fireworks and campfires.
- If he/she relies on sign language, typing or symbols to communicate, make sure he/she knows how to communicate about the food and events he/she may encounter.
Happy Fourth of July!
Dr. Cathy Pratt BCBA-D is the director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, a statewide program that works to build local capacity for families and professionals to address the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum across the lifespan. She is immediate past chair of the Autism Society’s Board of Directors and currently serves on its Panel of Professional Advisors.