Bonfire Night

A guest post from Jane 🙂

Bonfire Night

Many children/adults with autism may look forward to Bonfire night and want to join in, but still struggle with the sights, sounds, and smells.  Others may dislike the whole event, and just wish it would go away.  Either way, it can help to prepare and support the autistic individual through this time to minimise any stress that may be experienced, and reduce the risk of meltdowns, which can be distressing and exhausting for all concerned.

  • Prepare your child based on their level of understanding – talk to them, watch programmes about Guy Fawkes and the gun-powder plot, write/draw about bonfire night, make collages – anything that you feel will help to get the information across to your child about what bonfire night is, and what might happen.
  • Make a calendar and do a countdown to Bonfire night – this can be a very visual thing, where the child ticks off the days – I used to draw and cut out fireworks that my son had coloured in, and we would stick them in a row on the wall, removing one each day until November 5th.
  • Prepare your child for the noise by playing a DVD or CD with the sound of fireworks on – you can do this very quietly at first and then gradually increase the volume. If your child is doing something they enjoy with this noise in the background, it can help to desensitise them to the noise of fireworks – maybe not completely, but it can certainly help them to be not quite so distressed by the noise of the real fireworks.
  • If your child wants to join in the activities but is experiencing anxiety, the above tips should help.  Also, if they are going to a bonfire, maybe let them wear ear muffs to drown out some of the noise, a peak cap to block out some of the visuals, and stand further back from the display to cut down a little bit on the other sensations.
  • It can help to have a set time of arriving and leaving so the individual with autism can enjoy the event, but not be exposed to that level of sensory intensity for too long.
  • When returning from a firework display the person with autism may need peace and quiet, and time to themselves – don’t mither them with chores or homework, just leave them alone.
  • If the person with autism prefers to stay home you can keep them occupied with a calming activity, may be centred around their special interest if they have one.
  • They can still wear headphones/ear defenders in the house, or turn the music/T.V. up to block out some of the noise.
  • If the individual is experiencing sensory overload then turning up the volumes may not be a good idea, and trying to keep everything calm and low key can help.
  • If the autistic person can tolerate the smell, then use aromatherapy oils such as Lavender, which can be calming, and also help to mask the smell of smoke and burning that pervades our homes during this time.
  • In the days leading up to Bonfire Night, and the days following avoid going out with the person after dark as people tend to light fireworks for days before, and days after November 5th.
  • The sensory overload experienced by many during this time of year can lead to meltdowns.  If you as an individual with autism, or a loved one with autism has a meltdown during this time it will be understandable.  However, it is possible that the meltdown may not occur until sometime after, when all of the fireworks have stopped, and things seemed to have returned to normal.  This is due to a build-up of emotions during this time, and the trigger for the explosion may be something seemingly small and unrelated – so be aware of this and be patient.
  • Sensory overload can cause some people with autism to `self-harm` as a direct response to their stress levels.  Following some of the above advice should help to minimise this risk.  If self-harming does occur then you need to deal with it in a calm manner so that you don’t add to the sensory overload.  If you are the person with autism who is self-harming then please seek help from someone you trust, or the National Autistic Society on how to deal with this. I would suggest doing something that you normally find calming, which can be a distraction from the cause of your distress.
  • Animals can experience the same level of fear and distress during bonfire night, and it can help the person with autism to spend time with their pet (if they have one) or someone else’s, as animals can be a very calming influence for some people with autism, and in this situation they could help each other.
  • The above are just a few tips which may help you as an individual with autism, or a loved one with autism to cut down on sensory overload, and the risk of having meltdowns.  I hope you find them useful, and please do share your tips with us in the comments box below – the more tips we can share, the better we can support people with autism at this time of year   Jane xxx

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To learn more about helping children with autism to deal with change check out our TRANSITION TECHNIQUES book:

To learn more about how to build a child`s confidence around their MELTDOWNS check out our REWARD PLAN book:


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