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Make the 4th of July More Enjoyable for Your Child With Autism
Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused



By Sarah A. Weddle, Ph.D., BCBA, LABA

As the July 4th holiday approaches, here’s a brief planning exercise to increase the likelihood this patriotic and spirited holiday will be fun for your child with autism or related disabilities, and your entire family.

First, grab a sheet of paper and a pencil. This exercise is an opportunity to hone your sleuthing skills as a behavior detective. Next, draw a line through the center of the paper. On the top half portion of the paper, list three or four instances (in the last six months to a year) in which a trip, community outing, or party was highly successful for your child. On the bottom portion of the paper, list three to four instances in which similar experiences (trip, community outing, or party) were less fun, and more stressful.

Think back and identify the events/factors leading up to both the positive and negative experiences, and answer the following questions:

  • Was my child presented with expectations he/she was prepared to follow?

  • Was my child encountered with sights, sounds, and/or tastes that were aversive to him/her?

  • Did my child receive enough support and attention from an adult or sibling to do what was expected during our celebration?

  • Was my child adequately rested and fed?

  • Was my child highly motivated to deviate from their typical, preferred routines and behaviors to participate with our activities?

After you have answered these questions on both halves of the paper (i.e., the negative and positive experiences), you can identify typical patterns. As the expert on your child, it is now your mission to replicate those positive experiences.

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

Expectations: prepare visual schedules and visual expectations of Independence Day activities (parade, fireworks, cook-outs) and review with your child in advance.

Sights, sounds, and tastes: list the sensory activities you should introduce or avoid while celebrating. If your child 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 your child reacts to online videos of firework shows as a starting point.

Supervision and support: think carefully about how you will make your child feel secure and safe during unfamiliar routines and activities this 4th of July season. Specifically, think about how your child prefers to receive affection and increase the “dosage” of these interactions when s/he or she is showing you signals it is needed.

Rest and Hunger: recharge your child’s battery, so to speak, by ensuring s/he has 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 your child would rather engage in self-directed activities encourage him or her to sample new experiences, but do not force the issue if it means that s/he could eventually act out.

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

Sarah A. Weddle, Ph.D., BCBA, LABA, is a Behavior Consultant for May Institute’s Home-based and School Consultation division. She can be contacted at sweddle@mayinstitute.org.

May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization with more than 60 years of experience in serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in Randolph, Mass. For more information, call 800-778-7601.