July 4th: The Magic of Fireworks

I love fireworks! When Ryan was three, I was so excited to take him to his first fireworks display. The eruption of the opening blast sprayed the sky in magical colors that glowed in radiant hues and then… Ryan began screaming. We quickly exited and I thought, “Perhaps he is too young.” We tried again the next year, still unsuccessful. The following year, I finally “got it” and we watched the fireworks peacefully from inside. From then on, we always went indoors before the first display.

Without preparation for the big day, an event-filled schedule can leave a child with autism feeling un-festive. I hope the tips I’ve collected along my journey help you prepare for the holiday so that your Fourth of July is full of fun!


Fun overload can easily occur on the Fourth of July and other holidays. I always suggest keeping the day simple and structured. If you get up at 7 a.m., continue to do so even on a holiday. When Ryan was young, we kept our daily routine, whether it was a holiday or not. Making a schedule for your child is also helpful. It may include: “Play in sandbox. Play on swings. Take a break.” The expected can be calming.

Bring along your child’s favorite toy or activity to any event. This might allow your child to stay busy while you are chatting with your friends and family. Ryan was always very content watching movies on his iPad.

Limit the time that you are attending picnics or social events. If your child is like many children on the spectrum, these situations may make him or her anxious. You may see an increase in repetitive behaviors, such as twirling, finger waving, lining up cars, etc. This is a sign of anxiety as your child is returning to a behavior to keep the “sameness” in his/her life. Just alert your host that your visit may be shorter than expected.

Picnic food may not be your child’s favorite, or perhaps your child is on a restricted diet. Find out beforehand what will be served so that you can come prepared with alternatives. I suggest explaining why you’re asking to the host in advance so that he/she isn’t offended, but knows that you simply wish to help your child be successful.

And for those fireworks….you can enjoy them indoors like we did, or you can watch them on TV. Changing the volume on the TV may desensitize your child to the noise. It was interesting that we were the only ones indoors for the fireworks the first year, but with each Fourth of July after, the number grew.

The Fourth of July celebration can come in many forms. Take the time and select alternatives that will make it a fun holiday for both you and your child. And of course, be prepared that what worked last year, may or may not work this year. But isn’t that what makes our lives such an adventurous journey?

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