4th of July and Dealing with Over-Stimulation

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overstim2It’s the Fourth of July and families everywhere… wait in anticipation for late afternoon picnics on the beach with a large group of friends and family, and excitement builds for the annual fireworks display that always follows. For some children (and adults) this holiday scenario, as well as many other common summertime activities, represent an overwhelming experience and may actually be a painful event for them.

A child who over-responds to sensory stimuli might have this experience instead:

  • Can’t tolerate the feeling of wearing a scratchy bathing suit
  • Squirms and complains loudly while getting sticky, strong-smelling sunscreen on their face and body
  • Hates being covered with sand
  • Difficulty with walking barefoot in the grass
  • Covers ears in a loud crowd of people
  • Hits someone for inadvertently bumping into them.
  • A loud firework display leads to an inconsolable tantrum

If your child fits the above description, your child may have issues with their sensory development. Sensory development is the maturing of the five senses of hearing, smell, taste, touch and vision. It also involves the way your child’s nervous system receives input from these senses and then forms an appropriate response. For more information, see AP article: “How Your Child’s Sensory System Develops” (http://www.abilitypath.org/areas-of-development/physical-development/sensory/articles/articles/how-your-childs-sensory-system-develops.html)

Problems with sensory development occur when one’s responsiveness to sensory stimuli lead to inappropriate responses. One case of this is known as sensory over-stimulation. Sensory over-stimulation may result in your child having a tantrum, crying spells, physical aggression, or just ‘tuning out’ of the situation.

Tips for Dealing with Over-Stimulation:

  1. Prepare a social story** before attending a new event or activity. We found two:  1) The Story of 4th of July by Positively Autism and  2) Fireworks posted by the University of Louisville Kentucky Autism Training Center.
  2. Try to get in a good nap so your child is well rested, and pack his favorite snacks, toys and other items that will occupy and comfort him at the event
  3. Try to identify quiet areas if the environment you will be at is very stimulating. Talk with your child about the quiet area or safe spot and upon arriving show them the space.
  4. If your child will tolerate it, provide them with a pair of noise reducing headphones or earplugs. If they have never worn them before, try to test them out the days leading up to the event.  Watching videos of fireworks and wearing the headphones might be one way to prepare them.
  5. If your child does become over-stimulated, look for activities to help them calm down:
  • Escape to a quiet, dark room
  • Jump on a trampoline
  • Hug your child tightly, applying deep pressure to them
  • Provide them with a chew toy or crunchy food.
  • Before the event you can seek the help of your pediatrician and a qualified occupational therapist trained in sensory integration to provide you with other helpful tips. Do you have a tip? Please share in the comment fields below.

Related Articles:
4th of July Arts & Crafts ideas
Festive recipes including gluten free

Links & Resources:
Reference: Miller, LJ. (2006). Sensational Kids. New York, NY: Perigee Books.

Sensory Processing Disorder Network (SPD Network) http://www.spdnetwork.org/ provides resources for individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and for the family members, friends, therapists, physicians, teachers, and researchers who care about and work with them

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