Bonfire Night, Autism and Me

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For most people, November the 5th (or sometime in October until late November as it’s become) is a reason to celebrate with  bonfires and firework displays. As a person who has sensory issues I can honestly say that it is NOT my favourite time of year!

Before you mumble ‘miserable sod’ and hit the X on the top of your screen, allow me to explain..

As a child, I remember having a firework display in our garden at home. I say display but it was just my dad sticking some fireworks in an old biscuit tin filled with sand and setting them off one at a time.

Mum made soup and we stood about shivering waiting for the fireworks to splutter into life and you could bet that in any box of fireworks there would always be one that performed like a wet fart!

I wasn’t particularly safe with sparklers either but I did enjoy writing rude words in the air while Mum wasn’t looking.

I remember thinking that I should be having fun because I was a kid and that’s what kids do. But I wasn’t really having fun. I was cold. My ears hurt and my eyes smarted from the smoke that filled the air. I preferred to sit in my brother’s bedroom window and watch the displays light up the skyline. I’d sit there for ages until my eldest brother would tell me to shift so he could do his college work.

Mum started giving us the option of fireworks or money so I chose the money and sat and watched the fireworks from the window. For me, this was a most agreeable arrangement.

Ex hubs and I took the boys to a display once when they were little. We made sure our dogs were secured in the front room with the TV on loud but, still, we arrived home to a room full of poo, chewed up carpet and a video remote with teeth marks in it and it was decided that in future I would stay in with the dogs and he would take the boys to the local cricket club’s display.

I was relived not to have to cope with the noise and crowds but my relief was short-lived as my four-legged friends would totally lose control of their arses with each BANG.

Then there were the intermittent barfing sessions…

I would spend the entire night on my hands and knees, peg on nose and cloth in hand – disinfecting the crap (literally and metaphorically) out of the carpet while trying to stay conscious which was a BIG ask, trust me!

Autism

Most people who have autism have sensory processing issues to some degree. They are either under sensitive or over sensitive and bonfire night can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Firework displays, in their nature, are unexpected because you never know what is going to happen and when. This is very stressful to people with autism who need structure and routine and to a child who’s senses are exceptionally heightened, the noise and blinding lights can be painful, not to mention distressing.

However, children with autism can have a positive experience on bonfire night but it does require planning.

Counting down using a calendar and social stories will help the child to know exactly when bonfire night takes place. Obviously it doesn’t just happen on one night now so while you can be prepared for any display you will be attending you need to take into account those that are happening around you on other nights. So be prepared to turn up the TV, provide ear muffs and distractions.

Showing your child a video of fireworks will also give them an idea of what to expect. Some schools do this as part of education about safety on bonfire night.

Do some research on the events in your area. Some events are disability friendly and are less likely to be crowded.

Ear defenders are invaluable when it comes to noise – unless you have a child like S who needs them but doesn’t like how they feel. I understand this though as I struggle with headphones for the same reason. Ear muffs are gentler. They won’t block out the noise but they will take the edge of it and they keep the ears toasty warm.

You could also jump in the car, park up somewhere and watch the skies light up. This is my favourite way of watching fireworks – especially with soothing music and a flask of something hot with a little nip in it – unless I’m the one who is driving and then it’s minus the nip.

If your child can’t cope with any of it then stay at home where it’s warm. Put on their favourite TV show and cuddle up. Don’t feel you have to do the ‘normal thing’. Understand that if everyday life provides a challenge for your child, imagine how fires and explosions will make them react. Even the fun stuff is stressful for the highly-sensitive autistic child.

S is excited about the fireworks because all his classmates are and he copies what he sees but this is the boy who screams when the hand dryers go off in the toilets or I put the hoover on and who struggles to wear the ear defenders that will keep the noise to a minimum. Noise triggers meltdowns.

For this reason, a public display isn’t a good idea this time but I do happen to know of a place where we can park up and watch the Manchester skyline explode without the sensory onslaught. I’ve uploaded the more gentler tracks of the Harry Potter soundtrack onto the iPod and, hopefully, it should give S a pleasant experience of firework night.

The lurcher will be safe at home with Classic FM on full blast as she seems to be made of stronger stuff than my terriers were, thankfully.

Whatever you do and wherever you go this bonfire night, stay safe and spare a thought for the those who struggle at this time of year.

Because of the poor economy, we couldn’t afford fireworks at our house. The only snap crackle and pop at our house yesterday was when I poured the milk onto my Rice Crispies! ~ Anon

A Bit Of Everything

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