Celebrate Inclusively: Your Guide to Sensory-Friendly Canada Day Events

Tips for Parents and Community Organizers


Canada Day is a vibrant celebration filled with fireworks, parades, BBQs, and community gatherings. But for almost a third of Canadians aged 15 and over, or 8.0 million people, they have at least one disability, and Canada Day celebrations come with barriers to their participation and inclusion. In fact, loud noises, dazzling lights, bustling crowds, and unfamiliar environments can trigger anxiety, meltdowns, and difficulty enjoying the celebratory spirit for people who experience sensory sensitivity or sensory overload.

However, this doesn’t have to mean missing out on the fun! Creating a sensory-friendly Canada Day celebration is easier than you think. This blog offers practical tips and resources to ensure an inclusive and enjoyable experience for everyone, fostering a spirit of community and belonging.

Understanding Sensory Sensitivity and Overload

Sensitivity and the need for a sensory-friendly Canada Day

Sensory sensitivity refers to a heightened experience of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touches. Moreover, everyday stimuli that most people barely register can be overwhelming for those with sensory sensitivities.

While we traditionally focus on the five senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing, there’s a growing recognition of a broader sensory experience. We have at least eight senses! This includes our sense of balance (vestibular), movement awareness (proprioception), and interoception (internal body sense like hunger and thirst). People experience sensory sensitivity and sensory overload as a result of sensations from any sense!

For example, sensory sensitivities can be associated with diagnoses like:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): People with ASD may experience sensory sensitivities in one or more senses. Fireworks displays can be particularly challenging due to the combination of loud noises, unpredictable light flashes, and social overwhelm.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Individuals with ADHD may be more easily distracted by the sights and sounds of a busy Canada Day celebration, making it difficult to focus and enjoy the festivities.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): This condition affects how the brain processes sensory information. For example, people with SPD may find the fireworks overwhelming and struggle to filter out background noise or visual stimuli.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Loud noises like fireworks can be triggering for veterans or others living with PTSD.

Overload and the need for a sensory-friendly Canada Day

When these intense stimuli come together during a Canada Day celebration, it can lead to sensory overload. This is when the brain receives more sensory input than it can process effectively. Symptoms of sensory overload can include:

  • Anxiety: The overwhelming sensory input can trigger feelings of worry, unease, and even panic.
  • Meltdowns: Especially for children, sensory overload can lead to emotional outbursts, crying, or tantrums.
  • Difficulty Participating: Instead of enjoying the festivities, the sensory overload can cause stress and a desire to escape the environment.
Mother and child sitting on lawn holding Canadian flags.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Canada Day: Your Guide

Here are some key strategies to create a sensory-friendly Canada Day experience, divided into sections for parents and community organizers:

For Parents:

  • Plan in Advance: Reduce the Unknown: A major stressor for many with sensory sensitivities is the unknown. For instance, share detailed information about the event beforehand, including the location, schedule (including start and end times), activities, and meal times. In addition, if fireworks are planned, mention them and provide details about the display.
  • Visual Aids: Pictures and videos of the event location and activities can be incredibly helpful for people of any age with sensory sensitivities to prepare themselves for what to expect. Importantly, consider creating a social story with visuals to walk them through the event step-by-step.
  • Invitation Etiquette: When inviting guests, mention your efforts to create a sensory-friendly environment and encourage them to bring any noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, or sunglasses they may need.
  • Pack Sensory Soothers: Bring noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, sunglasses, and fidget toys to help your child manage sensory input.
  • Find a Calm Corner: Opt for a less crowded area further away from the fireworks launch to minimize noise and visual overwhelm.
  • Bring Quiet Activities: Keep your child engaged with quiet games, books, or coloring pages to provide a soothing distraction.
  • Communicate and Prioritize Comfort: Talk to your child throughout the event and check in on their comfort level. Let them know it’s okay to take breaks or leave early if needed.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts to manage sensory input during the event. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small.

For Community Organizers:

  • Partner with other local groups: Connect with local organizations that support people with disabilities. These groups can provide valuable insights, resources, and even volunteers to help create a truly inclusive event. Here’s how you can collaborate:
    • Co-host the event: Partner with a disability to share the planning and execution of the Canada Day celebration.
    • Invite sensory experts to provide training: Train your event staff on recognizing sensory overload and best practices for creating a welcoming environment for people with sensory sensitivities. Sensory Friendly Solutions has training solutions for you: Get Sensory Friendly Training!
    • Promote the event to their communities: Partner with sensory organizations to get the word out about your sensory-friendly Canada Day celebration to their members.
  • Sensory-Friendly Marketing: Promote your Canada Day event with sensory considerations in mind.
    • Use clear and concise language: Avoid jargon and overly descriptive language that might be overwhelming for people with sensory processing difficulties.
    • Offer visual aids: Include pictures and videos of the event space and activities on your website and social media platforms.
    • Mention sensory-friendly elements: Highlight your efforts to create a sensory-friendly environment in your event descriptions.
  • Benefits of Sensory-Friendly Events: Creating a sensory-friendly Canada Day celebration isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also beneficial for your community and organization. Here’s why:
    • Increased Attendance: By catering to a wider audience, you can attract more people to your event, boosting community engagement.
    • Positive Brand Image: Demonstrating inclusivity through sensory-friendly practices reflects positively on your organization and strengthens your brand reputation.
    • Enhanced Community Spirit: Creating a welcoming environment for everyone fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens the social fabric of your community.
Infographic highlighting 7 ways to host a sensory-friendly Canada Day event.

Partner with Sensory Friendly Solutions

Planning a sensory-friendly Canada Day celebration is an investment in your community’s well-being. But where do you start? We can help!

  • Take our Sensory-Friendly 101 Course: Our comprehensive online course equips event planners and community organizers with the knowledge and skills to create inclusive celebrations that cater to everyone’s sensory needs. Enroll today and make your Canada Day event truly unforgettable!
  • Our affordable training membership grants you access to all the courses you need to create sensory-friendly celebrations.

Make Your Event and Location Inclusive with Training

Canada Day is a time to celebrate our nation’s rich history and cultural diversity. By incorporating sensory-friendly elements into your event planning, you can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate and create lasting memories. Let’s work together to make Canada Day truly inclusive for all!

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