Helping Sensitive Kids on the Fourth of July

Fourth of July Overwhelm

For children on the autism spectrum or living with ADHD, sensory issues are common – and specially evident on holidays like the Fourth of July. These kids have a hypersensitivity to things like extreme heat or cold, loud noises, bright or unusual lighting, and even changes in temperature.

Often the day starts early with a parades and crowds, marching bands, brightly colored floats and candy and sweets available everywhere. This may be followed by an all day barbecue, party full of delicious smells and movement and laughter of family and friends. The day ends (usually past bedtime for most children) with a fireworks display that overwhelms the senses of most who attend. This combination can spell disaster for children with special needs.

If you are the parent of an ADHD child, how can you help them avoid sensory overload and yet still enjoy the holiday?

Tips for Making the Fourth Fun for Sensitive Kids

Whether your child struggles with a sensory processing disorder, Asperger syndrome (ASD), ADHD or PDD, here are tips experts recommend for helping your child enjoy the Fourth of July without a major meltdown:

  • Pick and choose activities – The Fourth of July holiday offers many activities that can be stressful for a sensory sensitive child.  It’s important to limit their sensory exposure by limiting the day to include one or two of your favorites.
  • Set Expectations: Let your child know how long the parade, party or fireworks will last, so they feel more in control. It’s also important to provide them with a choice to opt-out if it becomes too much.
  • Consider limiting time at events – Consider bringing your child for just part of an event. For example, take your child just for the fireworks – or maybe take your child to the party or picnic but watch the fireworks from the car.
  • Choose locations carefully – Try to create a situation where your child can retreat easily, such as a home with a view of fireworks, where a quiet room is available if they need a break from the noise and lights.
  • Bring helpful supplies – If your child enjoys sensory or fidget toys, bring those with you. Art supplies or other favorite portable activities can be a positive outlet, too. Having plenty of familiar snacks and drinks available can also be helpful.
  • Ask for help – Be clear with other adults around you about how they can help make the event comfortable for your child.
  • Limit the amount of junk food – Children with special needs are often more affected by the sugar, glutens and artificial ingredients found in many Fourth of July favorite eats.  This often results in uncontrollable hyperactivity. Help your child avoid the meltdown by choosing healthier options like fruits and vegetables instead of candy and sugary desserts.
  • Reduce sensory input – If you choose to attend the fireworks display with your sensory-sensitive child, you may consider bringing ear plugs or headphones to help reduce the volume of the sounds that accompany the big show. You may also consider picking a location that’s not too crowded.
  • Be prepared for any weather – July can be steamy and sweltering mix of humidity and sunshine, interspersed with heavy downpours of rain and gnarly thunderstorms, throughout most of the country. So be prepared for a natural fireworks event if you are outside.

What’s true for the Fourth of July applies to all your summer activities. Ultimately, by understanding how your kids react to sensory rich situations, you can adapt their environment so that they can still participate and not be excluded from the fun. What’s true for the Fourth of July applies to all your summer activities.



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