Photo credit: Georgie Fry
Bonfire night is a family occasion that brings joy to people across the UK - but for the 1 in 100 autistic people, fireworks can be anything but fun.
Many parents of children on the autism spectrum tell us they choose not to celebrate bonfire night because their children find it too distressing. The unexpected nature of displays can cause anxiety and stress, and for those with sensory issues, fireworks can be thunderous and blinding.
But there are ways to make bonfire night a positive experience. With the help of our Facebook group members, we have compiled the following list of tips to help you enjoy bonfire night with your child.
Plan well in advance
Create a count down calendar so your child understands when bonfire night will take place and make an itinerary of the evening in advance so that they realise what will be happening and when. Using Social Stories is another good way to prepare children and parents have reported the success of sound therapy for improving children’s ability to deal with noise. By their nature fireworks are unpredictable, so try to help you child understand what to expect. Sparklers may not have much sound, but they look like mini fireworks, so try and show them some in advance. Watching videos of fireworks displays may also help prepare them.
Find out if there is an organised event
Some local authorities provide displays that are suitable for people with disabilities - these might be less crowded and cause less anxiety for autistic people.
Make sure plenty of food and treats are available
Snacks and drinks like hot chocolate can act as a distraction and also calm children down. Warm clothes can also be a great comfort. Pack items that help soothe your child, such as a weighted vest, favourite toy, or handheld game.
Buy a set of headphones or ear defenders
These can help to block noise and reduce the anxiety that people with sensory issues experience. There are some that block out noise but still allow speech to be heard, which can be reassuring. Check the internet for stockists or use a set of headphones. You could even play soothing music through them. Ear muffs can be useful and help to keep ears warm too.
Watch from far away
Parking some distance from the display and watching from the car is one way to enjoy the visuals without any of the noise. If you go to a big display, stand away from the crowds.
If you are having fireworks in the house, allow your child to watch from inside where it is warm and they can experience the pretty sights without the loud noises, or try buying quieter fireworks.
Give a safety speech
Don't miss this perfect opportunity to talk with your children about fire safety and the dangers associated with fireworks. Be aware that some dislike of fireworks may come from anxiety or fear of being hurt. Reassure them that you are obeying safety rules.
Read more about firework safety for your family.
Stay at home
Keep it simple by inviting family and friends to the house so that you are in control and do not have to wait around in the cold. Outdoor displays may not keep to their advertised time and this may make your child anxious. If you buy your own fireworks you can avoid loud ones that might cause distress and instead focus on bright and sparkly ones.
When choosing to have a firework display at home, remember that your child or young person may still need a safe space to go if they feel overwhelmed or anxious. Ideally, this shouldn't be too personal a space eg their bedroom, as they may then associate unhappy memories with it.
Turn up the TV
This can drown out the noise of local displays or neighbours’ fireworks. Try playing predictable music or a favourite TV show that will cover the sound. It might be a good time to get out the games console.
Have a virtual bonfire night
There are several virtual fireworks displays available online, where you can control the level and noise of the fireworks.
Set an example
Stay calm and have fun when you are watching fireworks with an autistic child and young person. Being around adults that aren’t scared and are enjoying themselves can have a calming effect and encourage the child or young person to relax have fun too!
Last reviewed: 14 October 2016.