Survive the 4th of July with Autism

With July 4th this week, I, like most other families, have been in preparation and celebration mode for the upcoming fireworks frenzy.

Surviving the 4th of July with Autism

I have been communicating with extended family to confirm times, places, menus, and activities. But in addition to these important aspects of celebrating our freedom comes the huge responsibility of preparing for a holiday with a child with autism. Although holidays for most families are a day to look forward to, a day of rest and relaxation, good food and entertainment, holidays for parents who have a child with autism or a child/children with special needs it can be anything but enjoyable. Because of this, I want to share just a few things with you as parents of special needs children, as the family members who love them, the friends who will be seeing them, and the public who will be socializing around them. You too an survive the 4th of July with Autism and likely actually enjoy yourself along with your Entire family, especial needs children included!

Days Prior to the Event

1. Prepare the Child

With many children on the spectrum and other children as well, having a pretend party can be helpful in preparing them to the upcoming events. Drive by the location where the celebration, BBQ or cook out will occur so they can familiarize themselves with the location. Discuss and show them the food that will be served, etc. Talk through different situations that may occur reminding them of the loud noises, the variety of smells and the guest list. The more prepared you can make them, the better chance of success. Use visual schedules or social stories with real pictures videos, or some other type of media to prepare your child for the upcoming events. It is also imperative that you provide the EXPECTATIONS for which your child will be expected to follow.

2. Familiarize yourself with the Environment

In order for you to adequately prepare your child and yourself for the upcoming event, you must know yourself. It is of the utmost importance that you be aware of any dangers that may linger, any temptations your child might fall prey to, or anything that will become an issue.

3. Prepare an Escape Plan

Always have a plan of escape. It is always best to not park in a crowded area that will be difficult to get out of in a hurry, or without having other guest move their vehicles. You never want your earlier departure to interrupt others celebrations. Often times when you have children with special needs issues arise that require an earlier dismissal than sometimes planned. If you have other children and you are with family or close friends, it is also possible to prepare a head of time for those children to remain behind especially if they are older to continue the festivities. You never want your other children to feel punished or become resentful due to constantly having to leave activities because of your child with autism or some other disability. Again, this is why making a plan of escape is important and should be done ahead of time.

4. Become knowledgeable of Menu

Many children especially those with special needs have special diets they must adhere too. They may be gluten-free, casein free, allergic to nuts, allergic to red dye or milk. These are all things that although may not cause a life threatening issue, may induce extreme behaviors or side effects. Many recipes have ingredients that are not visible to the naked eye. I would always recommend that you call the hostess of your event ahead of time to see what is on the menu for the days events. For children with autism it is imperative they be aware of the child has severe allergies in order to keep the contained food put up or at a distance from the child, due to their lack of responsibility or knowledge regarding their health. Although this could possibly be uncomfortable, you as well as the hostess will feel better after the needs have been addressed. Now, although you made contact with the hostess regarding the menu, doesn’t mean the hostess is expected to prepare an additional menu for your child. If there are not items on the menu your child will eat or can eat, it is your responsibility to provide those items for your child.

5. Don’t Overbook

The holidays can often be a very busy time despite the reason for the holiday. Many families have two sets of grandparents who want to see their grand babies, there are church celebrations, neighborhood block parties, and friend get-togethers….. All children have difficulty keeping up with adult schedules, including those with special needs. As parents we must keep in mind that the stamina of our kids, their behavior, and their attention spans don’t always remain at its best after a long period of time.

6. Prepare Hostess and others

One area that is often overlooked is that of preparing the hostess or other guests. If your hostess is not familiar with your child or their disability this is always something that is good to do…. It will cut down on the stares, the uncomfortable glances and the comments some might make if they are not aware of the situation. Your hostess wants this day to be success, so by providing them with as much information as possible will ensure the days events are enjoyable for most. The things that I would suggest sharing include; behaviors such as stimming, screaming, or particular fascinations, tendencies to elope, lack of communication, and interests. You do not want the guest to ignore the child out of fear, or lack of knowledge. KNOWLEDGE is powerful….. For a child like mine it is always helpful to ask if there is a rocking chair, or a quite spot somewhere in the area that we can make our child aware of for when he needs a self-directed break away.

7. Ensure child knows how to ask for a break, or sensory input, or communicate when he/she is overloaded sensory wise

Remind your child how to ask for breaks (visual cue, picture, sign language or use of words) provide information of whom to go to when a break is needed and how they can receive sensory input. As mentioned above, a rocking chair, a swing, or a quite area can be a huge blessing to a child who is overstimulated and can increase the duration of your sensory child’s stay.

The Day of the Event

1. Pack a Bag of Goodies

This is super vital to your success. You should pack a set of extra clothes, toys, snacks, fidgets and possibly their IPAD, IPOD, DS or other things that will keep them occupied. If they have comfort items, a blanket, paper, or stuffed animal pack it. I would also include baby wipes, bandaids, and extra doses of medication. It is better to be safe than sorry. If your child reacts strongly to loud noises it is best practice to have a set of headphones, earplugs or some other form of protection for the ears. Even if you don’t plan on attending a fire works show, sometimes it is hard to get away from them, even in the privacy of your home. By providing protective gear for the ears can help hinder an unwanted upset or behaviors. The ear covering might also come in handy just with the noise level. During a cookout, swim party, or other celebration many noises abound. Your child might like the ear coverings just to mute out the access noise even before the fireworks begin.

2. Provide items to create a “defined” space for child to allow him to feel safe and protected when uncomfortable

If your hostess does not have a quite space available where you feel your child would feel safe, it may be helpful to bring some item of comfort to provide that spot. It may just be a towel, or some other form of security. If your child doesn’t have specific attachments, they will often find their own place of solace which should be fine…. IF appropriate….

4. Be mindful of all the days events and how the schedule or lack thereof will affect them.

Along with the helpful hint of not overbooking by attending several different celebrations in one day, also keep in mind the daily schedule. If your child is accustom to getting a nap, try to plan your day around their nap. IF possible do not break their routine. You are just asking for a meltdown if this occurs. If your child eats lunch EVERYDAY at 11:30 you can’t expect them to not want to eat at 11:30 on July 4th just because the food on the grill isn’t ready, or to wait until 1:00 to eat because Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue will not be there until then. Feed your kiddo at 11:30 and then again at 1:00 if they want….. But they will not understand why they are not following their “Normal” routine nor do they care.

During the Event

1. Make certain SAFETY is the FIRST PRIORITY

If you chose not to follow any of the other hints, this is the one YOU MUST ADHERE TOO. During celebrations such as this the possibilities of danger are high. Between the water, the grills, the fireworks, and the people there are a wide range of issues that could go array. Keeping your eye on your child at all times is imperative. Removing objects that might cause harm up and away from your child is best if it is possible. Be extremely cautious of any bodies of water. Children on the autism spectrum are drawn to water….. Keep abreast of the pools in the neighborhood, creeks, lakes, and even buckets of water. For a child with a fascination of water and no sense of fear or danger this can be extremely dangerous.

2. Explore options for sensory input

Upon arrival check out your surroundings, notice if there is a swing set, a trampoline, sand box etc. All items that could provide sensory input if needed.

3. Don’t Depend on others to watch your child

This is a biggie…. Do not get carried away in conversation and think that someone else will correct your child or stop your child from doing something they shouldn’t or something that is not safe. Again many guests may not realize that a particular behavior is not safe. For instance, my son Will is 12. Most guests at a cookout would assume it is okay for him to go out the gate towards the cars thinking he is going to get something out of his car. However, it is not okay….. He could possibly go sit in the car until discovered with the doors closed and the windows up and have a heat stroke. OR he may decide to walk home despite how far away it maybe. But to the unknowing guest who saw him leave would not think anything of it.

4. Remain CALM despite what might occur

As all parent know, the emotional state of the parent bears weight on the emotional state of the child. If you are stressed, upset, and have anxiety, your child will too. REMAIN CALM…. if that is not possible FAKE IT!!!!!

5. Pick Your battles

Again pick your battles, I am not saying give in, but don’t make mountains out of molehills, you don’t want to spend your day in a constant battle of wills. For instance don’t make an issue out of what your child with special needs wears. Despite the fact that the other children might be dressed in their fashionable frocks for the fourth, do not fall prey to insisting that your sensory sensitive child participate. In all reality it is okay if they don’t match their siblings. The picture isn’t worth your child being upset, agitated and sensory overloaded before you ever leave the house.

7. Encourage participation

Encourage your child to socialize with others, engage them in activities with the other children. Insist your children speak or respond in some fashion when spoken to within their level of ability. Don’t insist the child sit with you and the adults. They are a child, although you may have to limit your adult conversations it is best to sacrifice your “good time” for the sake of your children…. Right??? After all we are parents….. And isn’t that what parents do, sacrifice in the best interest of our children.

After the Event

1. Take note of what worked and what didn’t so you know what to repeat or avoid next time.

Experience is the best teacher. As all parents know we learn best from what has worked in the past and what did not. Make mental notes of these things or if you are forgetful like me, write them down in a journal etc. Make special note of the foods they ate, the activities they enjoyed the most, times left, arrived, etc. What they responded to best sensory wise, what they did not like etc. All of this information will be helpful in the future even if it changes to some degree.

2. Send your hostess a thank you note for such a lovely time, or an apology for having to exit the party earlier if situations arose.

If you have ever hosted a party, get together, or cookout, it is a lot of work and most often goes unnoticed. Celebrate your hostess by sending them a thank you note, small gift, or words of praise after the festivities. IF appropriate have your child write a note, draw or color a picture for the host or hostess as well.

3. Praise your child for a job well done while addressing any issues if appropriate.

Praise your child for they things they did well at. Even if it was only one good thing out of 10 bad. Do not spend your time chastising them for all the horrible things they did. Although some may need to be addressed, role played, or discussed always comment on the positives as well.

I hope these hints help you in your endeavors this year!!! Wishing you a FANTASTIC FOURTH!!!

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