Bonfire night can cause anxiety and distress for many children including those with sensory issues or a disability.
The dazzling firework displays can be exciting, but due to their unpredictable nature they may also cause sensory overload for some autistic and disabled children.
With the help of parents who responded on our Facebook page, we’ve put together five tips that may help on bonfire night.
Autism and anxiety:
Some autistic children may experience anxiety, which can become overwhelming and lead to episodes that are sometimes described as a “meltdown”.
The unexpected flashes and sounds that often occur on bonfire night can heighten anxiety levels.
Autistic children may be under- or over-sensitive to sensory input such as noise, light, smell or touch.
Those with over-sensitivity to sound and sight may experience:
- Sounds becoming magnified and distorted.
- Being aware of quiet and far away sounds other may not appear to hear.
- Inability to cut out sounds, especially background noise.
- Bright lights becoming distorted and appearing to jump around.
- Difficulty when sleeping due to sensitivity to light.
Five ways to help make bonfire night a more positive experience for autistic and disabled children
Explain what bonfire night is about and what they will expect on the days surrounding the night and on the night itself. You can use a Social Story™ to do this, using our Social Story™ guide.
2. Agree on a plan
Involve your child in planning for the night as it can make them feel prepared, making the sound of fireworks less unexpected.
Planning a comforting bedtime routine for your child can help reduce their stress. This could include an earlier bedtime so they can sleep through the noise, a relaxing bath, calming music or reading their favourite story.
If you’re planning on having your own display, ensure your child knows exactly what will happen. Provide a clear explanation of how it will look and sound, and when it will happen. It may also help to:
- Talk through the safety rules with your child and explain how you are following safety measures.
- Create a quiet place in your house where they can go if they feel overwhelmed.
If you’re planning on attending a public display, reassure them that they can leave if they feel uncomfortable. If you child uses ear defenders, take them with you to the display.
Your child may feel safer if they know they can return to the car or a place where they feel safe if they no longer want to be there.
Positioning yourself towards the back of the crowds allows you to make a quicker retreat when your child wants to leave. Some displays may have an indoor viewing area that may be beneficial.
3. Use items to reduce sensory sensitivities
Sensory toys can comfort and distract your child to reduce anxiety. A wide range of sensory toys are available, including Caudwell Children’s Get Sensory Packs, or they can be made at home.
Our Associate Director of Clinical Services, Paul McIlroy, recommends using noise-cancelling headphones – which block out noise but still allow speech to be heard – or ear defenders.
Movies, TV shows or games can also distract your child from local firework displays.
Some parents find that YouTube videos of fireworks are helpful as the noise and visuals can be controlled by the child, allowing them to explore fireworks on their own terms.
Snacks, drinks, warm clothes and other comfort items that relax your child can provide a nice distraction and keep them feeling calm.
5. Relax to reassure your child
Setting an example for your child, by being a calm and positive presence, will help to ease your child’s anxiety.
Children often find it reassuring to be around others who aren’t scared and are enjoying themselves safely and responsibly.
How will these tips help my child?
Our Associate Director of Clinical Services, Paul McIlroy said:
“Bonfire night can be a thrilling and enjoyable night to look forward to for many autistic and disabled children, However, it is an unpredictable night, so it’s not unusual for them to experience anxiety or symptoms of over-stimulation..
“Following these tips will help to ensure they are comfortable, prepared and reassured – which can hugely improve their experience of bonfire night.”