We receive information through seven senses, one of which is through the auditory or ‘hearing’ sense. Our auditory systems are an integral part of how we interpret our environment. Made up of two subsystems – the peripheral auditory system (outer ear, middle ear and inner ear) and the central auditory system, they work together to take in, process and respond to information received from the environment. However, those with Sensory Processing Difficulties may be under or over-sensitive to auditory stimuli, which can make everyday life situations more challenging. For example, if your child has an over-responsive auditory system, then it may be more difficult to filter out background noise, and some noises may also appear louder to them. Given this, it is easy to see how loud or sudden noises such as fireworks can trigger negative responses in a child with sensory processing difficulties.
For many, bonfire night is an enjoyable event. However, for those with an over-responsive auditory system (and for those around them), bonfire night can be very stressful. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. Let’s look at some strategies that can be used to minimise the stress and reduce the meltdowns this year.
- Preparation – bonfire night is an occasion we can plan for. Depending on the age of your child, it might be a good idea to teach your child about fireworks and the history behind them – knowing there is more to them than just a loud bang might help to reduce their anxiety. This can be done by reading a book together or watching a short youtube clip.
- Pick your environment – firework displays are often very noisy and busy, and might be too overwhelming for your child. For example, children with tactile difficulties are often over-responsive to touch and may therefore find large crowds difficult to cope with. However, that doesn’t mean that they have to miss out. Why not watch from a distance or from inside, behind a window.
- Ear defenders – ear defenders are a great way to block out unwanted noises. There are lots of good, cost-effective defenders that can be found in many local stores or from online retailers such as amazon. For the more self-conscious or older child, a pair of ear plugs or headphones under a wooly hat can be just as effective in reducing auditory input.
- Weighted blanket, vest or lap pad to provide extra proprioceptive input. This will cause the release of both serotonin and dopamine (happy neurotransmitters) that can help produce a feeling of calm in your child’s nervous system and keep them in a regulated state.
- Give your child something else to focus on for example an extra responsibility or job such as taking pictures.
Although fireworks are not something that can be eliminated, bonfire night is something that we can expect every year and therefore we can plan for. Fireworks are not limited to 5th November. But, we do have time to prepare!
Future Steps Occupational Therapist