Let’s talk about Independence Day. Fireworks. Everyone and their brother will be out shooting off firecrackers, sparklers, and bottle rockets. It’s a time honored tradition, but for many with ASC, it’s pure HELL.
Nobody wants to come out and be seen as ‘unpatriotic’, but there are very few options for those who can’t handle the noise and explosive booms of fireworks. Of course what we really wish is that we could disappear and take a boat out into the middle of the lake or even ocean to get away from all possible chaos until it’s all over. But that’s a slim to none hope for most of us.
So how do you handle it? What should you look for, and how should you interpret it?
For kids: the more detail you share, the better they’ll handle it. There’s no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to preparing kids on the spectrum. This is true whether they’re verbal or non. They can still comprehend a lot more than parents give them credit for.
For adults, same thing, but the type of information may vary. It may involve schedules (discussed further below).
Some things to keep in mind are:
• autistic people may become withdrawn, shutting down, lose speech (meaning their ability to communicate what the noise and vibration is doing to them inside)
~ they may be mentally preparing themselves, albeit subconsciously, to endure the sensory onslaught.
• they may appear curt, abrasive, using clipped speech, showing an extreme brevity in their words. They may even appear impatient or angry, no matter what you say or do.
~ This is a sign of distress, and not anger at you. They know what’s coming, and wish to God they could have some way of avoiding it. They’re so focused on NOT having a meltdown, they go into survival mode, using the absolute bare minimum of energy. They do this because they know every ounce of that energy will be needed to get through the next few days leading up to and on the day of celebration.
• they may isolate themselves, and no amount of persuasion, cajoling, or berating will make them come out of their self imposed foxhole.
~ think of it in terms of a turtle. Turtles will pull all legs and head into their shell when they’re frightened or feel they’re not in a safe situation. Again, this is self preservation. Additionally they may feel in a way they are protecting YOU from their impending meltdown.
Autistics aren’t stupid, and contrary to popular misconception, aren’t as oblivious as previously thought, especially by the time we’ve reached adulthood. Most of us know by the time we are adults, whether we’re diagnosed or not, what the noise and booms of these types of celebrations do to us physiologically. We also know the few people we trust and care for aren’t like us and want to enjoy these traditions, and that in turn can translate into guilt. Guilt can manifest with total withdrawal, or it can take the other route of lashing out irrationally. Even knowing it’s irrational doesn’t stem the flow of inevitable breakdown.
Lashing out is especially true for ASC kids, as there is less chance they’ve gained control over their body’s physical response to stress in the same way adults have. It’ll get there with time.
What can you do?
Avoid saying things like “it’s just fireworks, if you know it’s coming it won’t be that bad, you’re being childish, you don’t want to ruin it for everyone else do you”, and so on. Guilt tripping doesn’t help AT ALL. Neither does beating yourself against a brick wall of effort. It only makes us feel worse and more outcast. We KNOW how different we already are, and we already have as much guilt and self recrimination as we can stand.
Be patient. Don’t push us to join in, and especially don’t condescend to us PLEASE. Allow us our methods of handling it as we know what we can handle better than you.
Don’t take the shortness of speech personally. Recognize it for what it is and compartmentalize it if you can. Yes, that burden is on YOU, because at that point the autistic individual literally is unable to. You may as well expect a fish to climb a tree. You have about as much chance of success with that as you do with the other.
If you have neighbors that you think or know will be setting off things in the neighborhood, try sending out notes beforehand, explaining what is needed. Acknowledge that you understand it’s their right to celebrate and you’re not trying to dictate what somebody can do on their own property. But ask if maybe they can text when they’re about to start, or when they’re done. This is when it truly benefits you to “know your village.” People are usually more considerate if they are emotionally invested, i.e., they KNOW the person being affected.
In this way, your autistic partner/spouse/child will at least have a concrete focus point. They can better prepare mentally if they know “okay, they’re starting now, I only have to get through ___ hours.” And when it’s done, then it’s done, and they can let themselves know mentally that the time for anxiety is over.