Bonfire night, what a great time of the year. Great colours lighting up the sky, social gatherings in the garden or at an organised event for the whole family, lots of whooshing and ooooing and being excited by the sudden big bangs, screeching sounds and explosions. Or an unpredictable, scary, overstimulating, dangerous occasions that causes stress, anxiety and overwhelm?
If you are a parent of an autistic child or a child with sensory needs, this is anything but a fun event, trust me, I've been there. The build up to the night is fraught with questions and worry, but also a desire to be a part of it because everyone around us is talking about it. They may be sensory seekers and feed off the feedback of the noise and the feel of the fireworks, their smell and the excitement: but this can result in a nervous system overload and the need to decompress once they return back to their safe space. But as a sensory avoider, they may need to be as far away from it all as possible, a place of escape, ear defenders, wrapped in a weighted blanket with their music or TV up high.
Some top tips for creating a sensory friendly bonfire night:
Preparation is key
Use social stories to explain the evenings events and open up a space to answer questions and concerns
Create a sensory toolkit: Ensure you are aware of avoidance or seeking needs and have these resources available – have ear defenders, weighted blanket, a safe hideaway space, discuss bonfire night safety for those children that may want to get closer to the action. The use of sunglasses may take away some of the visual stimulus
Are you able to go to an event or would it be better to keep the event low key in the garden -know what your children are able to cope with. Can you see a display from a distance, so they can experience the event but with lesser sensory feedback?
Ask your neighbours if they are planning to set fireworks off in their garden, find out what time and for how long so that you can prepare your child and create that safe space at home, as far away from the noise as possible
Creating a virtual bonfire night at home, many of these can be found on the internet
Use the evening to create firework pictures together, using lots of different resources, create magical happy memories for the evening in the comfort of their safe space
Its ok not to want to go.
Follow your child’s lead, but know that’s its ok not to want too, adjust your expectations.
After the event
Remember that your child may need time to decompress after they have been to an event. Allow them the space to do this, it may be that they need to go to their room and be by themselves, watching the TV, playing their computer games or listening to music with their fidget tools. Reassure them that this is ok and you’re there when they need you. Allow them the time they need; be aware of the behaviours they may be displaying that tell you they are needing support to regulate and offer them the calm connection that they need