On the 5th November families across the UK will get together to celebrate bonfire night, but for children with autism it can less fun and more distressing. Some parents of children on the autism spectrum even choose not to celebrate bonfire night because their children find it too upsetting.
Firework displays can cause anxiety and stress, and for those children with sensory issues, can be very disturbing.
The National Autistic Society have complied some tips to help you enjoy an autism-friendly bonfire night.
Changes to routine can be a source of anxiety for children with autism, so be organised and tell them about bonfire night in advance. Create a countdown, using a calendar, to show them when bonfire night takes place and what you will be doing that evening so they know what to expect ahead of the event/activities you have planned.
Fireworks are unpredictable and are often accompanied by a loud bang so it can be a good idea to try to help children to understand this beforehand. Watching videos of fireworks and letting them see sparklers in advance can be a good way of helping them to understand what to expect.
Attend an organised event
Some local authorities run firework displays suitable for children with disabilities, these are often less crowded and can help to reduce anxiety levels in children with autism.
Watch from a distance
Try parking a good distance from the display and watch from the car, this way children can enjoy watching the fireworks without the crowds and the noise. If you choose to get out of the car try to stand away from the crowds.
Make sure plenty of food and treats are available
Snacks and drinks can provide a distraction and also calm children down. Warm clothes can also be a great comfort. Pack items that help soothe your child, such as a weighted vest or their favourite toy.
Stay at home
If you decide not to attend an organised event, having fireworks at home can be a good alternative. Let children stay inside and watch them, where it’s warm and cosy and the noise will be reduced. This will also mean there is no waiting around in the cold and children will be in familiar environment. Buying your own fireworks means you can avoid loud ones that may cause distress and purchase more colourful ones instead.
Ear defenders block out noise and reduce anxiety in children with sensory issues and these can be ideal for occasions such as bonfire night.
Turn up the TV
This can drown out the noise of local displays or neighbours’ fireworks. Try playing favourite songs or favourite TV programmes that will cover up the sound.
Set an example
Make sure you stay calm and enjoy the evenings events, being around adults that aren’t scared and are enjoying themselves can have a calming effect on children with autism. Encourage them to relax and have fun too!
Don’t forget fireworks can be dangerous so use this opportunity to talk to your children about fire safety and the dangers associated with fireworks. Some children’s dislike of fireworks may come from anxiety or fear of being hurt so reassure them that you safety rules are being obeyed.
Read more about firework safety for your family.
Have a great bonfire night!