Bonfire night (like many of society’s popular calendar events) can be anything but enjoyable for many of our unique individuals with support needs. Many who suffer from anxiety and sensory issues can find the unexpected nature of displays very stressful and a trigger for meltdowns. We have put together a few SensationALL suggestions to help make bonfire night a more positive experience.
Creating a visual countdown to “out of routine” events can be beneficial to help your child understand not only when bonfire night will take place, but it is also important to build in variability of the event – although it’s one night, chances are there will be displays and random fireworks a few days before and after – using a question mark might be a way of suggesting that there could be some unexpected noises or fireworks.
Creating your own Social Stories are an effective methods to provide guidance and directions for responding to various types of social situations.. They may use images or words to present the situation and can be another good way to prepare your child. It can be beneficial to include any possible sensory or coping strategies in this as well. i.e. “when I feel upset/stressed, I can pull up my hood and use my earphones to listen to my music”.
By their nature fireworks are unpredictable, so try to help your child understand what to expect. Watching videos of firework displays – building up sound levels or demonstrating sparklers in advance could help.
Some local authorities provide accommodated displays that are suitable for people with disabilities – these might be less crowded and cause less anxiety. Parking some distance from the display and watching from the car is one way to enjoy the visuals without any of the noise. If you go to a big display, you might want to find a quieter spot from crowds. Let your child know how long the display might last/you plan to stay and explain that they can retreat to the car when they have had enough. If you are attending an event for the first time, this might be a very short time. It is best to create a positive experience and possibly using “5 more then car or home” might extend the time, while still ending up on a positive note for next year.
If you are having fireworks in the house, allow your child to watch from inside where it is warm and they can experience the pretty sights without the loud noises. Table top fireworks, quieter fireworks or a virtual one might be a better place to start. Again, consider identifying a safe space or coping strategy – i.e. “when I feel upset/stressed, I can go to my room and use my earphones to listen to my music”.
Ear defenders, earphones and swimming ear putty (available from Boots Chemist and online via amazon) can help to block noise and reduce the anxiety that people with sensory issues may experience. Using ear or headphones and music can be a way to include a coping/distraction strategy – as can handheld games/electronics/figit toys.
- Bluetooth headphones are our new special toy – especially ones that allow you to talk over music/give instructions/reassurance.
- Consider the cold for outdoor displays – warm or weighted clothes can also be a great comfort. Use of hoods and ear muffs might also help.
- Have back up plan – like a sensory space – explain what their coping options are: back to the car, hide under a hood/blanket/weighted item/put sunglasses on.
Another online resource to look at for Bonfire night is this website with safety advice.