Happy Fourth of July! Picnics, cookouts, baseball … all of these contribute to wonderful summer celebrations. Who could forget about time at the beach, boat rides, and of course, the fireworks! For most people, envisioning these experiences and conversing about it with our friends and family immediately evokes smiles and jubilation. But for those who live with autism spectrum disorder, or other sensitivities, occasions containing overflows of sounds, sights, smells, and static become bombardments to their outer shells.
Among these festive surroundings, angst and anxiety may quickly set in for these unique individuals. Containing these fears is an important talent and survival skill to learn.
To do so, let’s focus on one fear …the fear of fireworks. Imagine that your loved one is so intimidated by fireworks that she screams for the duration of a pyrotechnics show. Simultaneously, she runs back and forth in an unsafe manner that may cause damage to property and possible danger to others. Therefore, her fear is causing problems for others within her living environment. She needs to learn how to contain this fear.
When we think of tackling the task of containing this trepidation, we should not feel overwhelmed as if we need to squash her stress completely. Containment simply means corralling or tunneling; as if to keep it isolated. It is okay to have fears. It is okay for this girl or young woman to feel afraid of fireworks. What is wrong is when her behaviors affect other people, places, and events around her in an antisocial manner.
• Create a social story about fireworks with this individual.
• Read the social story once per week for a month before the fireworks occur.
• De-sensitize her to fireworks through spurts of exposure in a safe space — watch fireworks on YouTube with the volume OFF for less then one minute; build up to watching fireworks on YouTube with the sound on for five minutes.
• Provide her with a safe space that she can retreat to when her anxiety is reaching an intense level, such as the quiet basement (somewhere away from the noise coming from the sky).
• On the night of the fireworks, pair the event with reinforcing items and activities that she adores; for example, if she loves pepperoni pizza, Snapple, and Elton John music, then make sure that during the fireworks, you have plenty of pepperoni pizza, Snapple, and Elton John loaded on her iPod with her headphones on!
Always remember, our successful social experiences will not always match with those we love. Being sensitive and aware will always lead to more harmony in the home. Cheers to fun summer memories!