Use ear defenders to protect your child's ears from fireworks
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 very disturbing.

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 them. 

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.

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

Ear defenders can help to block noise and reduce the anxiety that people with sensory issues may experience. There are some that block out noise but still allow speech to be heard, which can be reassuring.

You could also use a set of headphones to play their favourite music, or ear muffs to help keep their 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’re watching fireworks with your child. Being around adults that aren’t scared and are enjoying themselves can have a calming effect and encourage them to relax have fun too!

Last reviewed: 15 September 2017.