Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

July 2, 2020

4th of July & Sensory Processing

By: Christina Mitro, OTR/L

When you think of the fourth of July what are the first four words that come to mind? For me, personally, not in any specific order they would be: fireworks, gathering, barbecue, and picnic.

Though we may generally associate the holiday with many positive experiences and memories, a child with sensory processing concerns may experience the contrary. The Fourth of July may seem daunting and intimidating, and therefore lead to difficulty with participation in family events, traditions, and community gatherings.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure that your child is able to successfully engage in Fourth of July activities:

Communicate Needs ­- Encourage your child to communicate their needs with routine check-ins so that you can gauge their tolerance for certain activities. If your child is unable to communicate needs verbally visual picture cards. Monitor frequently so you are able to change locations to a more secluded area or exit the event entirely.

Minimize Sensory Stimuli ­­– If you intend on going to a public event it may be helpful to bring tools that aid your child in coping with sensory stimuli within the environment to prevent overstimulation:

  • Noise cancelling head phones or ear plugs
  • Sensory fidgets (i.e. spinners, stress ball)
  • Sunglasses for bright lights
  • Create a safe space with a familiar chair, blanket, or umbrella

Prepare for What is Ahead – Children with sensory processing difficulties often struggle with unexpected or unanticipated events. Providing exposure to potential scenarios prior to the event can ease anxiety about novel/overwhelming environments:

  • Read them a social story (a simple picture story that presents expectations for social scenarios)
  • Watching a video about fireworks, parties, or any other new activities
  • Create a visual picture schedule of events so that your child is able to anticipate order of events.

Have a Back Up Plan – You may have to change up or modify plans to better accommodate your child with sensory processing concerns and that is totally okay! It may be too overwhelming to attend firework shows, parades, or neighborhood parties. There are still many creative ways to make the Fourth of July an enjoyable experience for your child while creating new traditions. Below are a few ideas:

  • Host a small gathering with few familiar guests
  • Engage in a Fourth of July craft or sensory play
  • Have a camp out in your backyard
  • Make Fourth of July themed desserts or recipes
  • Participate in relay races or water play
  • Have a Fourth of July themed scavenger hunt or obstacle course