Bonfire night and the time around the 5th of November is one of those periods of time when we have to stop and think about what is happening. Many people aren’t too keen on the bangs and flashes that erupt without warning but they have an understanding of what is happening. Imagine if you were sensitive to certain noises or disturbed by flashes of light but you have no understanding of what is going on.
We take most things around us and our acceptance of them for granted. When we are sat at home of an evening and we hear a firework going off we know what it is. Our logic and minds tell us that considering the time of year it must be a firework. With this information in mind we don’t panic. The noise may disturb us a little but on the whole it doesn’t bother us. Someone on the spectrum on the other hand may, due to imagination and theory of mind related problems, find these sounds of explosions disturbing because they don’t automatically think ‘ah yes a firework!’ to them it is just a sound that has suddenly taken place which isn’t usually there. Not only is there a problem building with understanding what is happening but also with the fact that the ‘norm’ is not being its normal self. It is possible for a person to see and understand that it is a firework but there could still be an issue with ‘Why now?!’ as they evaluate the situation and think ‘hmmmm this doesn’t happen most nights so there could be a problem?’. If someone is suddenly made to feel nervous because of strange things happening then this can lead to a heightening of behaviours as they remain on edge.
Many people have said each year that this time can be difficult, so, what can we do?
Let’s not forget those good old ‘basics’. Most parents know the distracters and comforters that will work with their child when their behaviours are up so this is a time to ensure you have these good old aids ready and close to hand. Favourite music, DVD or even game to play. Whatever it is that works for you and your child or relative make sure you have it ready so that if they do become disturbed or agitated by the noises from outside you can quickly turn to them to start easing the stress. It could also be a good idea to not just have the distracters ready on standby but to also plan a couple of evenings through with activities that you know they love. If you can keep a person’s mind busy on something then it is amazing just how much they can shut out other things.
If you already know that your child/friend/relative will be disturbed by the sound of fireworks then think ahead. Try and get all the curtains shut earlier than you maybe would normally as it’s amazing how much they can muffle sound from outside. Having the curtains/blinds shut will also shut out some of the flashing and light as fireworks going off. It could be a good idea to ensure that around the house there is some constant background noise. In one room you could leave the TV on and in another the radio etc so that whichever room they happen to be in there is always some kind of noise that may just take the edge off of the explosions outside.
The best way to deal with many such situations such as this time of year is to actually introduce it to the person. Again we too easily presume and understand things and forget that someone else may not, so do take the time to go through what is happening. You could put together a ‘Social Story’ with some pictures of fireworks going off. On things such as YouTube you can find videos of just about anything so why not look up one of fireworks. If you can show the person an example of a firework going off and what it might sound like it may not make them like them BUT it lets them know what it is that is happening. Too many problems with those on the Spectrum are related to a basic idea of comfort and happiness. ‘I’m use to life being this way and that pleases me’ ‘when things suddenly change that makes me worry and panic.’ Anyone sensitive to the changes and events that take place around us will be disturbed by the sudden arrival of all these explosions and flashes coming from all round so let’s not leave it that they are worried let’s bring them ‘comfort’ by letting them see and understand what is happening. If a person is more comfortable with what is happening then they will feel better within themselves and behaviour should keep to a level that is easily managed. It is important to always put yourself in that persons shoes. Just imagine how you would feel if you had no concept of ‘Bonfire Night’ and suddenly there were explosions etc around you. You would be frightened to start with and then also you would worry about what else is to come. If you had no concept of the 5th November how could you know that it is just something that happens for a small period of time each year? You would be worried that it was going to keep going and maybe even get worse! The unknown is a very frightening place to be but some of that fear can be removed by making the unknown something you have seen and understood.
Be ready to ‘comfort’ and ‘support’ as these are things that more than anything will help you through any rough times that may come such as now. A person scared of what is happening is in need of reassurance and to just know that ‘everything is ok’.
For those of you who know their child will like the fireworks etc that is great and please do go and have some GREAT fun. Remember though that even someone that ‘likes’ something can very quickly suddenly not like it so be prepared. If you are going to take them to a display think about taking some ear defenders with you that just take the edge off the sound. We know displays as a whole are noisy but there is often the odd big bang that makes us all jump so those ear defenders might just stop those from frightening someone which could in turn mean they no longer like to watch them.
If you are doing your own fireworks at home then please be EXTRA vigilant. Remember that someone on the spectrum may do something because they have seen Dad/Mum do it (like most children!) so they don’t intend to do something dangerous but may end up doing so following your lead. Often the same ‘danger’ instinct that we all have is not always present on many levels of the spectrum so if you are having your own display then ensure there are a couple of other people with you to ensure that the children don’t suddenly decide ‘wow these look great and I want to be nearer to them!’
Have fun everyone and enjoy the Fireworks if you can, but, most importantly stay safe!
(written by Austin Hughes of AKO)