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When July Explodes: Sensitive Kids on an Overstimulating Holiday

The hot sun. The explosive noise. The blinding light show. How to actually enjoy Independence Day without setting off our kids’ sensory fireworks.

Official diagnosis or not, many kids and young adults experience sensory needs that are either misunderstood, dismissed, and/or overwhelming. For children on the autism spectrum or living with ADHD, sensory issues are practically expected. Hypersensitivity to extreme heat or cold, and to loud/bright/all-consuming holidays and big celebrations is a way of life.

If your child loves July 4 but someone always ends up in tears, here are four practical ways to prepare yourself and your family:

1. Never Underestimate the Power of Headphones

Fireworks are ubiquitous on Independence Day. Our family learned the hard about our son’s sensory sensitivities to fireworks when he was 2 years old. He had a public meltdown complete with kicking, screaming, tears, and fist throwing. His 2-year-old self couldn’t articulate what was happening to his little body as the fireworks blasted his eardrums and the light display pierced his eyes. The crowds of people talking closely around him and touching him sent him over the edge.

We had no idea.

To prep for this holiday festivity, pack noise-canceling headphones. Several sensory sensitive companies makes headphones with EVA foam so they bend but don’t break, and are soft to the touch. This prevents any unwanted intrusion from ear buds or other devices that may cause pain or discomfort. This simple item will allow your child to enjoy the show without the piercing noise.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder?]

2. Invest in Quality Sunglasses for the Sun and Glare

Both the intense July UV rays and the lights from firecrackers can be blinding this time of year. Don’t opt for cheap, drugstore-variety shades this summer; spring for polarized eye protection instead. The difference is worth the extra money. The polarization eliminates harsh glare and blocks more light. Pairing 3-D glasses over sunglasses will reduce light and make for a pretty impressive fireworks show for your sensory kids.

3. Pack Their Favorite Snacks

Many kids with sensory concerns are discerning eaters, but the pickiness sometimes goes beyond taste. Our son, for example, has refused some of his favorite foods because the packaging changed. When we head out for a long day, we pack plenty of snacks and drinks that we know he will enjoy — precious alternatives in case the family barbecue doesn’t have anything he will eat. A hungry child is a more difficult one, so keep you child hydrated and well fed with options that won’t further irritate his or her already heightened senses.

4. Prepare for Any Weather

At the moment, July is a steamy and sweltering mix of humidity and sunshine, interspersed with heavy downpours of rain and gnarly thunderstorms, throughout most of the country. Whether your sensory kiddo is temperature sensitive, afraid of bad weather, or bothered by the noise from thunder, we need to be prepared for anything since many July 4 festivities are outside.

We always pack sunscreen, an umbrella for the rays or the rain, clothing with UV protectant, a change of clothes and shoes, a jacket, ear protection, and eye protection.

Most parents of children with sensory needs are pros at preparation, but we can all learn something from each other to be ready for the next holiday or heat spell!

[How to Avoid Holiday Havoc]