Last year J was having nothing to do with the whole fireworks celebrations. We had to leave last years display after a few minutes as J was really struggling. Back then we didn’t know J had Autism (although I had an inkling) so I just thought he didn’t like it in general.
This year I wanted to give it another try but this year I was prepared. I thought of all the areas J might struggle with and had a plan for each.
Change in routine
I prepared J by using his visual timetables and ‘now and next’ boards. We got ready using the first board (have a try on toilet, get on shoes and get coat) and then talk through the plan for the evening (get in the car, watch fireworks, come home for bedtime milk). This way J was prepared for change in our normal routine. I made sure that once home his bedtime routine was as normal as possible.
Anxiety over something ‘new’
Fireworks aren’t something you see everyday. On tv they can be a celebration or represent a disaster or explosion so no wonder the unpredictability worried J. I showed him YouTube videos of firework displays so he could see the type of colours, patterns and sounds we’d see/hear. I made it exciting by asking what colours he’d like to see.
Crowds and sensory overload (inc: before fireworks)
We went early so we could park inside the venue. My plan was that this way we could get to the event before the crowds descended. It also meant that if the crowds got too much for J then we could sit and watch fireworks from the car. I also took distractions such as J’s light up toys and his cars. These were amazingly helpful and I think these kept him calm and focused on those instead of the people and lights and noise.
Once it was closer to the fireworks starting time we found a space away from the main crowd. I figured that we were going to see the fireworks wherever we stood so was no need to be rammed in the middle of everyone. We found space where J could sit and play with his car until the show started.
The loud noises
I brought J ear defenders from Amazon. They were fantastic! I had tested them at home and they are great for turning loud noises into a mumble. When the fireworks first started J went to run away and wanted to leave. I held him up and said ‘listen’ (and signed). He realised that the nosies were muffled and instead of wanting to leave he hid in my scarf instead.
Need for enclosure/safe space
I delibaretly wore my long scarf. I knew this could be used as something for J to cover himself with if he needed it. He did. He spent the first few minutes literally inside my scarf and was peeking out occasionally. It gave him the sense of being enveloped which helps with his anxieties and moments when he wants to escape. He did then come out of the scarf and watched the rest of the display.
Having an escape plan
I knew I had to have a plan of action for when it was too much for J. Also, for getting out with minimal difficulties. The space we chose was near to the car park so I knew we could easily get back to the car without fighting our way through. J did get tired from all the emotions and sensory issues, and towards end he was going into what we (affectionately) call ‘Robot Mode’. He had shut down and was staring quietly. He wanted to sit and just slumped. So we went back for the car early. We could still see them as we walked and only missed a few minutes.
Winding Down and returning to routine
It also meant we could get in the car and have some ‘de-escalation’ time to wind down…else J would be so wound up and wouldn’t go to bed easily. When in the car I knew they’d be queue to get out so no rush. I gave J the IPad and he quietly watched videos and played some games. He even used the drawing app to make a fireworks picture. I think that was him making a visual to process it all. By the time we got home J was shattered but went straight into bedtime drink (which was premade so he could have it straight away) and normal routine. He was asleep within minutes!
I’m so pleased that we made it through most of the show. I love fireworks and I guess there was a selfish part of me that really didn’t want to miss it. Obviously, J comes first so I would have been prepared to leave straight away if needed and this would have been the last year I’d attempt it till he was older. However now we know our strategies work then I hope for fireworks night to continue as one of our yearly celebrations/traditions.
Any hints or tips that have worked for you? Are you a fireworks fan? I’d love to hear from you ❤️