(editor’s note: This is a re-post of Hartley Steiner’s Sensory Friendly 4th of July essay)
You probably already have a pretty strong opinion on the 4th of July. It isn’t exactly our favorite holiday either. Technically, we hate most holidays simply because of the intense amount of prolonged anxiety and lack of routine–and that is just my problem.
But back to the current holiday issue.
With 4th of July coming we are in need of taking many many precautions to prevent a meltdown worse than anticipated (which is pretty much however severe the meltdown was the year before, times whatever integer seems appropriate for his current state–last year was about a 7 on the 1-10 scale, and given our current problems, I’d say times a 5, and we are pseudo-scientifically expecting a meltdown of about 35–don’t you wish you could really calculate these things with some equation? Where is that damn Easy Button?).
I am going to give you a list of things that *have* worked for us in the past, but are obviously no guarantee for your sensational kiddo, so as always, adjust where you see fit. : )
1. Give limited warning–it is my experience that if I talk too much about the noise that is coming and the problems Gabriel may or may not have he gets overwhelmed. I think the anticipation is just as bad, if not worse, than the event. Yes, Gabriel is clear on what 4th of July is and that it is coming, but we don’t harp on it.
2. Assure your kid there is a Plan–we are so plan driven at our house, that assuring Gabriel there is a Plan on how to handle the fireworks, and going over the Plan with him (in visual form when necessary) is great. And I’m not gonna lie, the Plan is comforting for me too.
3. Try not to over do it during the day–if it is at all possible, limit the craziness of your day time activities so your kid has a better chance of being able to cope at night. Meaning, don’t swim all morning, playground all afternoon, followed by a BBQ with dozens of friends and expect your kiddo to be calm and organized when the fireworks come. Your kiddo will be exhausted (aren’t you?) and much less tolerant of the noise.
4. Choose to stay in–this is probably a no brainer for you, but if your kiddo has sensory issues, and doesn’t like the noise, don’t go out to a show. It always ends badly for everyone. Stay home. Make a new tradition for your family. Yes, even if you did it as a kid, and even if your husband did it as a kid, and even if this was the bestest thing that you loved about summer, and even if your family was in charge of planning the entire town’s celebration, and even if you want it for your kid or yourself. Even then, this is not you, and your kid is probably never going to have the 4th on his/her list of greatest things about being a kid. Keep it Simple Stupid.
5. Go to bed on time–when Gabriel was younger, this was a big help. If we could get him to sleep early, then he would sleep through the fireworks. The older he has gotten, the harder this is because all those damn fire crazy neighbors of ours insist on doing fireworks during the DAYLIGHT. Ugh.
6. Getting through the noise–here are the tips for staying inside:
a. Keep ear plugs on hand or noise canceling headphones.
b. Try to go about your normal routine as best possible without too much change. Routine is comforting.
c. Reassure your child if he/she feels nervous, there are safe places to go (bedroom, bean bag, closet, egg chair, quiet place).
d. Play calming music at a normal to low volume so that your child has something to focus their hearing on–remember they can be SUPER-listeners (not to you of course) so they will hear the fireworks even if you are blaring the TV.
e. Play a new movie or a new video game, or something they will really be “into”.
f. Make sure their bedroom windows are covered. The visual flashing of light can be awful.
g. Don’t watch the fireworks on TV with sound. You can watch them on mute while playing your own music in the background–this way there is no “BOOM!” and you get the Oooo Ahhhh affect.
h. Take your child’s lead. If they are nervous, adapt. If they are handling it well, compliment. This isn’t the time to push your kid or to try to “desensitize” them to noise.
i. Remember your Sensory Diet. A little proprioception goes a long way. Do some stretching with a game of Simon Says, have a yogurt through a straw and engage in some playdoh pinching to keep your kiddo’s hands and mind busy.
7. If you insist on going out to see fireworks–remember that this may not be a good time for your kid. If there is some family gathering that you are just compelled to go to, bring along things for your kid: Noise canceling earphones (or ear plugs), favorite toy, heavy blanket, and whatever else keeps them calm. Oh, and in my opinion, leave before dark. : )
8. Consider having your child spend the night elsewhere–we have a VERY active group of pyros here in our neighborhood–something I love on one hand and absolutely HATE on the other. 4th of July is nightmarish for Gabriel, so this year we are letting him spend the night at my mom’s house where fireworks aren’t legal, hopefully minimizing the noise hazard. We will be sending him with all of his things, just in case, but he won’t be here for the major reenactment of WWII that fills our streets each year. This is a huge sigh of relief for our whole family. If you don’t have a handy grandma’s house to use, consider renting a hotel room somewhere fireworks aren’t legal, or head to a cabin in the woods–make your family new memories in a firework-free zone. Camping anyone?
9. Try and relax yourself–the more well rested and prepared you are, the better your child’s chances of feeling relaxed too. Make sure you are not over worked or super stressed (at least no more than usual) so that you can focus on your kid. He/she’ll need you.
10. Remember it is just one day–Or maybe it is three weeks if you have a pyro-loving fire-worshiping neighborhood. But, regardless, it isn’t the rest of your kid’s life. Learning to be flexible and tolerant of things he/she (or you) can’t change is a part of real life and something we should be coaching our kiddos on. Your kid can do it–and you can too.
My last piece of advice is more for me, perhaps, than for you all: Resist the urge to stomp out front and demand that the F’ing Bastard still shooting fireworks at midnight stop or you’ll call the cops (or, you know, kick his ass, or torch his car, or whatever colorful expression comes quickly to mind in the moment).
The 4th of July (or technically that may be the 5th–isn’t that what you are going to argue when you are yelling in the street?) is not the time nor the place to educate the world on the challenges of Sensory Processing Disorder. There are many opportunities to make them feel awful about upsetting your special needs kiddo in the future.
Instead while you lay awake at night, cringing at each firework, now further spaced making the anticipation as bad as the BOOM, use your time for plotting your revenge instead. Nothing like a pissed off woman who won’t shut up while he is trying to mow his lawn. That’ll get him. Or, the torching of the aforementioned car is a good one too…
And don’t forget to have a HAPPY 4th OF JULY! It is a great day of celebration, and an even better reason to enjoy life a bit with friends and family. Grab your ear plugs and your heavy blanket and prepare to celebrate!
What could be more American than that? : )