Fireworks for All: Creating Sensory-Friendly Community Events

Tips for Parents and Community Organizers

Fireworks! They light up the night sky, a dazzling display of color and sound that marks celebrations around the world. But for many people, including children with sensory sensitivities, people with autism, and veterans with PTSD, and many others, the sights and sounds of fireworks can be overwhelming.

According to research titled, “A Window Into the Brain Mechanisms Associated With Noise Sensitivity” by Kliuchko et al., (2016), noise sensitivity is estimated to disturb between 20-40% in the general population, moreover, high sensitivity to noise is estimated to be between 12-15%.  Fireworks can be a problem for a lot of people due to noise1

This blog post tackles two important aspects of sensory-friendly fireworks:

  1. Planning Family Outings: Equip parents with strategies to make traditional firework shows accessible and enjoyable for their sensory-sensitive children.
  2. Creating Inclusive Events: Inspire community organizers to host sensory-friendly firework displays that welcome everyone.
Mother holding son holding sparkler while watching fireworks.

Sensory Sensitivity and Overload: Why Fireworks Can Be Challenging

Fireworks can be magical, but for some, the dazzling display can be overwhelming. Specifically, here’s how sensory sensitivity and overload play a role:

Sensory Sensitivity: Imagine your senses are like volume knobs. For people with sensory sensitivities, some knobs are turned up extra high. For instance, this means everyday sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes can be experienced more intensely.

  • Loud Noises: Fireworks’ booming explosions can be like a blaring alarm for someone with auditory sensitivity.
  • Bright Lights: The rapid flashes and vibrant colors can be like a strobe light show for someone with visual sensitivity.
  • Crowds: Large gatherings can feel overwhelming for someone with social sensitivity, like being in a crowded, noisy room.

Sensory Overload: This is what happens when all those high-volume sensory inputs come crashing in at once. For example, it’s like all the knobs are maxed out, leading to:

  • Anxiety: The intense stimulation can trigger feelings of worry and unease.
  • Meltdowns: For some, especially children, overwhelming sensory input can result in emotional outbursts, crying, or tantrums.
  • Difficulty Enjoying the Event: Instead of being mesmerized by the fireworks, someone experiencing overload might feel stressed and want to leave.
  • Unfamiliar Environment: New places and routines can be unsettling for some children, especially those on the autism spectrum.

    Planning a Sensory-Friendly Fireworks Family Outing:

    Here are some tips from Tanya White, a social worker and parent of children with sensory sensitivities, to help your family enjoy a fireworks display.

    “We teach children that their needs matter by recognizing and honouring their needs. As a result, children internalize that it is ok to act on their own needs as they grow older; something I believe contributes to the development of autonomy that supports wellbeing and good mental health.”

    Tanya White, social worker and parent of children with autism and processing disorders
    • Set Expectations: Prepare your child for the sights and sounds of fireworks beforehand. Use social stories, pictures, videos and practice sessions.
    • Pack Sensory Tools: Bring noise-canceling earmuffs, sunglasses, and calming fidget toys to help your child manage sensory input.
    • Choose a Strategic Location: Opt for a less crowded area further away from the launch site to minimize noise and visual overwhelm. Furthermore, watching fireworks from inside is also a great option.
    • Bring Activities: Keep your child engaged with quiet activities like books, small toys, or taking pictures of the fireworks.
    • Focus on Comfort: Prioritize your child’s well-being. In addition, be prepared to leave early or skip the event altogether if they become overwhelmed.
    Infographic outlining 6 ways to have a sensory-friendly firework experience.

    White’s recommendations are tested by her family, and can help improve the accessibility of your community’s next firework show for your family, too.

    White explains that some of her children prefer to watch firework shows from indoors. On the other hand, some prefer to participate outside, but at a great distance. She reiterates the importance of respecting your child’s wishes and honouring their comfort levels.

    There are adjustments that can be made that honour a person’s differing needs without having them feel alienated from the fun; it is about respect and inclusion” 

    Tanya White, social worker and parent of children with autism and sensory processing disorders

    Creating Sensory-Friendly Community Events:

    Community organizers can play a crucial role in making fireworks inclusive for everyone. Here are some ideas:

    • Offer Pre-Show Information: For example, announce firework displays well in advance and provide detailed information about the sights and sounds involved.
    • Designate a Quiet Zone: Set up a designated area with dimmed lights and minimal noise for people who need a break from the sensory overload.
    • Consider Alternative Displays: For instance, explore options like silent fireworks displays or laser light shows that offer a visual spectacle without the loud explosions.
    • Partner with Organizations: Collaborate with organizations that support people with sensory sensitivities to create a truly inclusive event.

    Learning More: Sensory-Friendly 101 Course

    For a deeper dive into creating sensory-friendly experiences, take our Sensory-Friendly 101 course. Moreover, our training membership equips you with all the courses you need to have the knowledge and skills to build inclusive spaces for everyone, for one low price!

    Together, we can make fireworks a celebration that everyone can enjoy!

    In conclusion, these strategies will create sensory-friendly fireworks for your whole family or your community to enjoy. Thank you Tanya White for your valuable contributions to this blog post!

    Dive Deeper: Sensory-Friendly Fun for All Occasions

    Looking for more ways to create inclusive celebrations that everyone can enjoy? Then, explore our collection of blog posts packed with tips and ideas for sensory-friendly fun:

    Finally, stay ahead of the curve! Read our latest blog posts about all things sensory-friendly:

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    1. Kliuchko, M., Heinonen-Guzejev, M., Vuust, P., Tervaniemi, M., & Brattico, E. (2016). A Window Into the Brain Mechanisms Associated With Noise Sensitivity. Scientific Reports, 6(1).
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