For children with sensory sensitivities, fireworks can be a real challenge. The days and weeks around 4th of July can be a celebration that leads to loud and lengthy firework shows, but there can be isolated booms and cracks that come at all times of day or night. For the individual with auditory sensitivities, this is a huge detriment. Having a sensory diet or sensory solution to the auditory input can support sensory needs.
Sensory Solutions for Fireworks
The intense noise of fireworks can trigger sensory overload, leading to feelings of distress, anxiety, or even pain for these individuals.
The explosive nature of fireworks results in sharp, unpredictable bursts of sound, which can be overwhelming and disruptive to individuals with sensory sensitivities. The loud noises can cause discomfort, stress, and sensory discomfort, impacting their overall well-being. Plus, for the child or individual that has experienced this discomfort may be traumatized by the potential for booms and cracks of fireworks that seem to come out of nowhere.
Another sensory consideration when it comes to firework season which can impact sensory sensitive individuals is the crowd. Fireworks displays are often watched in very crowded environments like parking lots, plazas, stadiums, fields, neighborhood lawns, etc. The physicals closeness of a crowd adds additional sensory stimuli like bright lights and vibrations.
The combination of these factors can further intensify the sensory overload experienced by individuals with auditory sensitivities, making it hard to self-regulate, and can potentially leading to heightened anxiety and meltdowns. We may even see a season of sensory dysregulation.
How to support the child sensitive to fireworks
It is important to recognize and respect the needs of individuals with auditory sensitivities during fireworks events.
Creating inclusive environments that offer quieter alternatives, such as silent fireworks or designated noise-reduced zones, can provide individuals with auditory sensitivities the opportunity to enjoy celebrations without the overwhelming impact of loud sounds.
Some sensory solutions for fireworks include sensory strategies and physical or location-based tactics:
- Preparing for the event- talking about what is going to happen at the fireworks event or celebration
- Using noise cancelling headphones or earbuds
- Sensory diet tools like deep breathing exercises or weighted blankets to regulate and organize sensory needs
- Sensory chaining techniques (see below)
- Watching fireworks from a distance
- Watching fireworks from a live streaming of the event or a TV/social media broadcast
- Countdown from the start of the fireworks
- Personal space away from crowds
When it’s time to sleep and the neighborhood is still celebrating, try:
- White noise sound machine and blackout curtains
- Turn on a movie
- “Camp out” in the basement for a fun adventure
- Play a sleep app
By understanding and accommodating the challenges faced by individuals with auditory sensitivities, we can work towards creating more inclusive and sensory-friendly environments during fireworks displays, ensuring that everyone can fully participate in and enjoy these events. After all, we all have differing sensory needs, and sensitivities can look different for everyone.
Sensory Chaining Technique
One way to challenge sensory systems and trial tools and strategies in sensory situations is through chaining.
Occupational therapy practitioners are familiar with chaining. There are different types of chaining strategies to support development of skills:
- Forward chaining- Forward chaining is a teaching strategy that is often used to help individuals learn and develop new skills, particularly in the context of behavior management and task completion. This approach breaks down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, allowing individuals to master each step before moving on to the next one.
- Backward chaining- Backward chaining is a teaching strategy that can be helpful for teaching new skills as well, however, this approach involves starting with the final step of a task and working backward to teach each preceding step until the entire task is mastered.
- Sensory chaining- this type of skill development is typically used to slowly and strategically chain a picky eater’s diet from exremely limited and preferred foods to a more diverse food input. This occurs by slowly introducing foods that are similar in texture in a step-by-step process.
Similar to chaining foods, sensory chaining can be one tactic to increase tolerance to sensory input in the form of tactile sensations, textures, messy play experiences, and even auditory input, or types of sounds.
The bubble wrap fireworks activity we have described below is a chaining activity to support individuals who are sensitive to fireworks. The activity is hands-on, and led by the child. They can pop the “fireworks” on their own time and gain not only proprioceptive feedback through their hands, but control the “pop” sound.
This is a fun fireworks themed activity to support the needs of individuals with auditory sensitivities especially when it comes to fireworks being too loud or sudden noises that typically occur during fireworks season. If you have a child sensitive to noise, then fireworks can be auditory overload. Using a sound “safe” activity to prepare for fireworks can be part of a sensory chaining strategy to support children sensitive to loud noises like fireworks.
This bubble wrap fireworks craft is a “safe” sound!
Use this fireworks themed sensory activity to incorporate skills such as fine motor skills, fine motor strength, bilateral coordination, and eye-hand coordination with an auditory processing component that is perfect for the 4th of July, or any patriotic holiday! It uses bubble wrap and red, white, and blue colored stickers to make a sensory tool that kids will love.
You’ll need just a couple of items:
- Bubble wrap
- Blue stickers
- Red stickers