6 Ways To Have a Sensory-Friendly Fireworks Show for Your Child

Fireworks are often used to celebrate with people coming together to mark a holiday or special occasion. The bright lights of a firework show are exciting for many families. However, fireworks can also be overwhelming and stressful for children, adults and pets, alike! The loud noise of explosions, the unexpected sounds and lights, the sudden changes in light, and a crowd of people can contribute to sensory overload.

If you are a parent of a child with sensory sensitivities, you may feel that it is impossible to attend a firework event without your child getting upset. If this is similar to your family’s experience, sensory-friendly fireworks may be the answer.

Tanya White, a social worker and mother of children with sensory sensitivities shares her experience and knowledge in this blog post about ways to create sensory-friendly fireworks that include more people in the celebrations.

What is a sensory-friendly firework show?

Simply put, a sensory-friendly firework show is a typical firework show that you change to be more comfortable for your child’s senses. There are different ways to make fireworks more sensory-friendly based on your child’s particular sensitivities. Additionally, creating a sensory-friendly firework show does not need to be complicated for parents!

Why are firework shows sensory-rich?

You are likely curious as to why fireworks are sensory-rich. First of all, White explains that the bright lights and loud noises from fireworks are overwhelming to children with hypersensitivity. Furthermore, for people with PTSD, for example, unexpected firework sounds can be triggering and frightening. Many people have sensory sensitivities that make fireworks a challenge. 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. However, it is important to recognize that everyone has different sensory sensitivities and preferences.

In addition to this, crowds that typically attend firework shows contribute to sensory overload and stress. White expresses that is difficult for people with sensory sensitivities to participate in community activities that are crowded and busy. Moreover, the excitement associated with attending large events also causes children to become overwhelmed.

Lastly, White states that the change in schedule and routine at an unfamiliar firework show can be problematic for some children. Oftentimes, autistic children prefer a structured and consistent routine. Therefore, attending a new and unknown event, like a firework show, can be stress-inducing.

Mother holding son holding sparkler while watching fireworks.

How do you create a sensory-friendly firework show for your child?

As mentioned, creating a sensory-friendly firework show for your child can be done by parents! Additionally, there are different ways you can make a firework event more sensory-friendly and inclusive for your family. White explains that her community has firework events several times a year. She shares her strategies to make these celebrations more sensory-friendly. White’s recommendations are tested by her family, to help improve the accessibility of your community’s next firework show for your family, too.

Infographic outlining 6 ways to have a sensory-friendly firework experience.

Have your child develop expectations about the firework event

An effective way to make your child comfortable is to help them develop expectations for the upcoming fireworks event. White states that an unfamiliar experience is often a source of stress for children with sensory differences. It is not uncommon for children with a sensory disorder to fear the unknown. Build your child’s expectations in a variety of different ways, like with social stories, looking at pictures and practicing.

Social story

First, use a social story to describe and illustrate what will occur at the event. A social story is a written and graphic description of the social expectations at an event. Typically, a social story will outline the different social steps of an experience from start to finish. To make it a sensory story, White suggested that is important to explain the sensory experience by outlining how the firework show will impact each of the senses. You can find many online social stories about firework events similar to the story created by Positively Autism. Or make your own social story with pictures of your family!

Look through past pictures or events

Another good tip is to look through photos or videos of past firework events. This helps your child remember past experiences. If you have never attended a firework event, watch videos of fireworks instead. Begin by watching videos with the sound off and in short segments. As your child becomes comfortable, gradually increase the sound level and the duration of the segments.

Practice in advance

Furthermore, consider a practice firework show in your own yard before attending a crowded, public event! Follow firework safety. Use small fireworks, appropriate for your backyard, to introduce your child to the experience. This lets your child practice watching fireworks in a familiar environment.

If you are going to an unfamiliar location to watch public fireworks at night, visit in advance, in the daytime. Let your child become comfortable and familiar with the location, too.

Bring sensory tools and sensory toys to the firework event

Another way to have a sensory-friendly firework event is to bring appropriate sensory tools and sensory toys for your child. White suggests that two common sensory tools that help are noise-cancelling earmuffs and sunglasses. White shares that the most stress-inducing aspect of fireworks for her children is the loud explosive noise. Additionally, it is often difficult to remove your child from the loud noises during a firework event if they feel overwhelmed. Therefore, bring noise-cancelling ear muffs or earplugs to help minimize the noise.

Sunglasses help children who have sensitivity to lights. Fireworks involve bright and coloured lights. The quick changes in colors are also sensory-rich. Sunglasses are an effective way to allow your child to watch and enjoy fireworks, keeping them in their comfort zone.

Lastly, bring a weighted lap pad or weighted blanket as a calming sensory tool.

Pick a less busy and comfortable spot to watch the fireworks show

Choose a comfortable place to watch fireworks to make the experience more sensory-friendly. Oftentimes, firework shows are crowded with large groups of people. If your child feels uncomfortable with crowds, consider selecting a spot to watch the fireworks farther away. This also helps reduce noise.

White explains that some of her children prefer to watch firework shows from indoors. Or, 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/parent of children with autism and sensory sensitivities.

Entertain your child during the show

Children often become restless when sitting for prolonged periods, especially if uncomfortable with the experience. There are different ways you can help to keep your child engaged during a firework show. For example, give your child the responsibility of taking pictures of the fireworks. Or bring small fidgets or toys that they enjoy playing with. Pack a book or a small, handheld activity. Designate responsibilities, for example, get your child to time the length of each firework. Help your child do things they enjoy!

Look for sensory-friendly firework events in your community

As sensory-friendly events become common, look for alternatives to firework events for your sensory-sensitive child. These events often use strategies to make the experience sensory-friendly, accessible or inclusive. For example, the Reading Public Museum has offered a sensory-friendly indoor light show for a 4th of July celebration in the United States. It was an option for sensory-sensitive children.

Create your own sensory-friendly firework event

If you cannot find any similar, sensory-friendly events in your community, consider ways to adapt your community’s firework show to be more inclusive for your family. White suggests that an effective way to develop a sensory-friendly show for your family is to set one up in your own yard. If you host your own event, you have control over the sensory experience! Unlike at a public event.

White explains a tip that is key for her family, is advance notice. Her community posts information in advance about upcoming firework shows. That gives parents time to explain the event to their children and to prepare. For White, it allows her children to develop expectations and practice. Additionally, it is important to note that advance notice about fireworks helps all people with sensory sensitivities. That includes, for example, people with PTSD. They may be triggered by fireworks.

Change your expectations for the firework show

Lastly, an essential component of making a firework event sensory-friendly for your child is to change your expectations as a parent. Acknowledge that your child may not be able to sit through a whole show. Regardless of the steps you’ve taken in advance, adjust your expectations.

White reiterates the importance of changing your expectations for your child during sensory-rich events. She states that an effective strategy is to focus on two things: what is important, and what experiences can be adjusted to fit your child’s needs. For example, it is not essential that your child attend an event that cannot be adjusted, if they are uncomfortable. It is more important that your child feels comfortable and protected by their parent.

White encourages you to allow children to develop their own boundaries. And then to to honour them. Reiterate to your child that their comfort and safety are a priority. And then make it so. Even if that means arriving late, leaving early or not going at all.

“We teach children that their needs matter by recognizing and honouring their needs. Resultantly 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/parent of children with autism and sensory sensitivities.

In conclusion, these strategies help create sensory-friendly firework shows for your whole family to enjoy. Thank you Tanya White for your valuable contributions to this blog post!

More sensory-friendly help for families.

Finally, if you are interested in learning about more ways to adapt your family’s celebrations, read on:

Create a More Welcoming World and Tame Sensory Overload

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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep39236
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