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Loud Noises and Sensory Sensitive ASD Ears

It's that time of year when we all need to be prepared for sudden loud noises - summertime storms and the 4th of July!

Are you a parent of a child who cowers, flinches or dissolves into tantrum or shutdown mode at the sound of loud noises?

Is sensitivity to noise an obstacle to your child’s typical daily functioning, development, social life and behavior?

Many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have trouble regulating the sensory information that bombards them on a daily basis. They may be overly sensitive or under-responsive to sounds. Also, they may have difficulty interpreting the sensory information their brain receives. Many children with ‘autism ears’ are over-responsive to noise and experience heightened reactions to sudden snaps, crackles or pops, especially thunder and fireworks.

This leaves many parents at a loss about what to do for their child to help him or her live in a loud world without anxiety and fear.

As the 4th of July approaches and festivities begin, it's important to prepare your child for the possibility of various sudden and extremely loud noises. Yes, you can minimize the risk of this happening. You do have the power to control your personal environment, but what about what happens beyond the boundaries of your home?

Knowing what you know about your child you can always make a decision not to attend the fireworks extravaganza held in your town. Unfortunately, you cannot always control how your neighbors might decide to celebrate the 4th of July, especially if you live in a state where fireworks are legal.

You can’t always predict everything for your child with autism so here are some suggestions to consider when it comes to the ritual of Independence Day firework displays.

  • Prepare your child. If your child is old enough, take the time to explain the significance of this holiday and the rituals that accompany it. Letting your child know in advance what might happen and discussing what you both can do in advance will give your child some sense of control and help reduce his level of anxiety.

  • Write a social story. If your child is young, a social story will work really well to prepare her for any event that might be stressful. The Gray Center is a wonderful resource for learning how to write your own social story on any topic.

  • Cover your child’s ears. Yes you can always use your hands to cup your child’s ears but that is not always practical. Be prepared for anything this holiday and carry a pair of earplugs or noise canceling headphones with you whenever you venture from home especially in the evening. There are some parents who are able to take their hearing sensitive child to a fireworks display with the use of a quality headphone.

  • Encourage deep breathing before and during the event. ALL children need to learn self-calming techniques to cope with life events – present or future. Children are never too young to be introduced to proactive steps they can take to regulate their reactions to things or events that might cause anxiety. Teaching a child how to breathe deeply helps supply oxygen to their body and brain to help them function more efficiently as well as relax their muscles.

  • Give a demonstration. Find a movie or video to watch about fireworks. Watching it on a screen allows you to control the volume. Start with the volume on low and gradually increase it just a bit above your child’s tolerance level. This is called gradual desensitization and is a good way to help your child become more comfortable with things that are difficult. You can also try to go live starting with small popping noises and adding sparklers for the visual effect in your own backyard.

  • Explore digital resources. A free interactive app, Fireworks 123, is now available. It provides a child with an immediate visual representation of the firework choices she makes. This helps her develop an understanding of descriptive concepts such as number, size, volume, and color in a fun and entertaining way. Also available via iTunes is a $.99 app, Fireworks Blast-Off that allows the user total control over their own fireworks display. Unfortunately, these programs are great at simulating actual sound but not at the intense level you will find at a real fireworks display but they can serve as a good introduction.

  • Have plan B. If you decide to try a live fireworks event be prepared to bail out at any time. Despite the fact that you spent time preparing your child and have a pair of headphones available, things may not work out as planned. Keep this in mind when parking the car so you can have an easy escape.

  • Seek out alternatives. Should you decide going to the fireworks is not worth the effort but your child still shows interest, look for a sensory friendly fireworks display. Hartford, CT has hosted such a show in years past and other municipalities may be doing the same now, so keep your eyes and ears open for such an event in your area.

Wishing you all a calm, happy and safe 4th of July!

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