Make the 4th of July More Enjoyable for Neurodivergent Individuals

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused; ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Sarah Weddle, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D 

As the July 4th holiday approaches, here’s a brief planning exercise to encourage a patriotic and spirited holiday for a neurodivergent individual you support. These strategies may be useful for all of us, but it helps to be more deliberate when a person, adult or child, depends on us for assistance. 

Think back and identify the events/factors leading up to both the positive and negative experiences during a recent special occasion – such as a community outing, a party, or a trip – and answer the following questions:

  • Did I provide choices so the individual could show or tell me how they wanted to participate? 
  • Was the individual presented with expectations he/she was prepared to follow?
  • Did the individual experience sights, sounds, and/or tastes that were aversive?
  • Did the individual receive enough support and attention from an adult or sibling to do what was expected?
  • Was the individual adequately rested and fed?
  • Was the individual interested in deviating from their typical, preferred routines and behaviors to participate with the event?

Note any patterns in your reflection. As someone who knows how to support the person, thoughtfully replicate the positive experiences as you make plans for the 4th of July.

You can also develop a short list of action steps that address:

Choices: think of all the ways you can check in with the person to determine what they want. Of course, you might not be able to provide everything they desire, but it’s important to get input on their needs and wants. This is particularly helpful in new situations. Try to follow their lead if you can. 

Preview:  Review Independence Day activities in advance such as parades, fireworks, and cook-outs. Use online videos and narrate what you see with the person so that they can be oriented to the experience. It may be useful to create a visual schedule with words or icons so the day is more predictable even though different. 

Sights, sounds, and tastes: list the sensory activities you should introduce or avoid while celebrating. If the person is distressed by loud noises or flashing lights, you might want to think carefully about attending the fireworks. If you are not sure how s/he will react, then assess how the person you support reacts to online videos of firework shows as a starting point.

Supervision and support: think carefully about how you will reassure the person so they feel secure and safe during unfamiliar routines and activities this 4th of July season. Specifically, think about how the individual prefers to receive reassurance and increase the “dosage” of these interactions when they are showing you signals it is needed.

Rest and Hunger: recharge and refuel, by ensuring both you and the person have had sufficient rest, and food/hydration prior to the expected activity. This can be tricky with the longer, hot days during the summer months.

Level of interest: if the person would rather engage in self-directed activities, encourage them to sample new experiences, but do not force the issue if it means that s/he/they could eventually act out.

Before venturing out on this 4th of July, remember to always err on the side of safety, and consult with the person’s therapeutic team beforehand for more specific recommendations, and intervention materials.

Sarah Weddle, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, is the Divisional Director of Clinical Services and Training for May Institute. 

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit