Managing Sensory Sensitivities

Managing Sensory Sensitivities During Fourth of July Festivities


Summer is the perfect time of year to soak up the sun and enjoy the outdoors. Pool parties, barbeques, fireworks – each of these present a perfect opportunity this season to spend time with family and friends. Although these events do provide a fun and entertaining atmosphere, an adult with autism spectrum disorder may find these situations extremely difficult. With the Fourth of July coming up, it is important to shed a light on the sensory sensitivities an adult on the spectrum may face. Please continue reading if you would like to gain an insight on these issues and learn some tips and tricks to minimize possible sensory overloads and meltdowns from occurring to your autistic loved one.

Adults on the spectrum experience atypical sensory processing.  In a 2009 study, a sample of adults with ASD were given a 60 item self report questionnaire to assess their levels of sensory processing in everyday life. Despite the fact that these adults experience very different sensory processing abnormalities, it was found that the abnormalities are all similarly severe.

There is a wide array of sensory sensitivities. Adults with autism have problems modulating sensory input and may develop an over-responsiveness or an under-responsiveness to a sensory stimuli (Source). July 4th brings the perfect opportunity to go out and watch the fireworks; however, if you plan on going with your autistic loved one, bear in mind that they may experience a hypersensitivity. This is a stimuli overload where certain noises may seem very loud and certain lights may seem very bright.

The following video by The National Autistic Society depicts how differently the senses of an autistic individual take in regular, everyday stimuli:


Taking an adult with autism out on July 4th may be tough for some, but it is not impossible. To make this experience an enjoyable one, here are a few tips that can help prevent stress and eliminate the possibility of meltdowns:

  • Prepare for the event beforehand. Read social stories like this one that offer different perspectives for this kind of situation, play games, or watch videos that illustrate fireworks and/or going to see a show.  
  • Plan for a sensory overload. If your loved one has a sensory sensitivity, you can watch the fireworks from a distance or bring a pair of earplugs or noise cancelling headphones. A body sock or blanket can help eliminate visual overstimulation.
  • Leave the show a little early. This will help to avoid crowds and traffic. Plan your exit before the conclusion of the show.
  • Wear proper identification. This is especially important if your autistic loved one is nonverbal. Ensure that they are wearing proper identification and emergency contact information. You can even look into customized temporary tattoos.
  • Bring a variety of sensory items. Some of these may include items to chew, weighted blankets, plush objects, stress balls, a small tent to block out the crown, snacks or an iPad. The type of item really just depends on the individual’s needs and preferences.
  • Designate a safety space. When you attend any kind of event, it is essential to choose a large object or an area to serve as the place to go to if anyone gets lost. You can even circle this location on a map (if available) for your autistic loved one to keep in his or her pocket.

Keep in mind that how you treat this situation is vital in preventing any kind of social anxiety for your autistic loved one in the future. Sensory intolerances can lead to isolation from certain environments or even phobias of specific place or types of environmental stimuli (Source). Therefore, it is important to be aware of how to handle these environments to prevent any discomfort or fear that the autistic adult may endure. So, set forth a plan of action, and have a memorable 4th of July with your loved ones!

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